Commonwealth Court opens hearing on Pennsylvania's voter ID law
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HARRISBURG -- A hearing in a challenge to the new state voter ID law opened this morning with Judge Robert Simpson saying he expects to make a decision by mid-August to allow time for appeals before the November elections.
Judge Simpson said the hearing likely will continue through next week and that he could make a decision the week beginning Aug. 13.
"The whole idea is to tee this up for the Supreme Court to make a decision well in advance of the election," he said. "I'm sort of a way station until we get to the Supreme Court."
In an opening statement, David Gersch, an attorney for the coalition seeking to prevent the law from taking effect, said requiring an approved form of photo identification at the polls would disenfranchise eligible voters, including two plaintiffs who sat in the courtroom. Mr. Gersch said the women are not unusual exceptions, but two of perhaps one million registered voters who lack the documents needed under the law.
"They are typical of a very large number of Pennsylvania citizens who stand to lose their right to vote if this law goes into effect," he said.
He argued that by signing an agreement that it neither knows of cases of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania nor will argue that in-person voter fraud is likely in November without the voter ID law, the state had conceded that "the current system works just fine."
Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Cawley told the court that the hearing is instead about the prevalence of photo identification. He noted that several forms of photo identification are acceptable at the polls, and he said a new form of voter ID under development by the Department of State would reach voters who lack the birth certificate or Social Security card needed to obtain photo IDs already on the list.
Mr. Cawley said the state does not need to provide evidence of in-person voter fraud to defend the constitutionality of the law. If legislators "could imagine a valid reason for a statute" and write a law that achieves that purpose in a rational way, they meet their constitutional burden, he said.
First Published July 25, 2012 12:11 pm