Court con­sid­ers stay on voter law

Public Spirit - - FRONT PAGE - By Linda Finarelli

lfinarelli@mont­gomerynews.com Two jus­tices ques­tioned the need to im­ple­ment the state’s Voter ID law prior to the Novem­ber elec­tion, while a third brought up a pro­vi­sion that at­tor­neys rep­re­sent­ing the state ac­knowl­edged could not be fol­lowed, dur­ing a Penn­syl­va­nia Supreme Court hear­ing Sept. 13 on a chal­lenge to the law.

In Au­gust, Com­mon­wealth Court Judge Robert Simp­son de­nied a re­quest by civil rights groups for a pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion block­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of a new photo ID re­quire­ment. Those who chal­lenged the law, known as Act 18, ap­pealed to the Supreme Court.

Un­der the Repub­li­can­backed law, passed in March along party lines, a valid photo ID, such as a driver’s li­cense or pass­port, must be pre­sented at the polls in or­der to vote. Re­cently, the state an­nounced those who lack the doc­u­men­ta­tion to ob­tain a valid photo ID can ob­tain a free Depart­ment of State photo ID that could be used only for vot­ing by sign­ing an af­fi­davit and pro­vid­ing a So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber and proof of res­i­dence at a Pen­nDOT driver’s li­cense cen­ter.

Republicans con­tend the law is in­tended to pre­vent voter fraud. Democrats say the Leg­is­la­ture failed to show any proof of voter fraud and the law will dis­en­fran­chise the el­derly and poor ur­ban vot­ers, the lat­ter of whom are more likely to vote Demo­cratic, and is a thinly veiled at­tempt to have Penn­syl­va­nia go to Mitt Rom­ney in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

David Ger­sch, rep­re­sent­ing those seek­ing the in­junc­tion, said the law was “dis­en­fran­chis­ing many vot­ers and bur­den­ing many oth­ers.” The state pre­vi­ously stip­u­lated it “knew of no in­per­son fraud … and none likely to oc­cur in the Novem­ber elec­tion ab­sent Act 18,” he said.

The prob­lem “is in re­quir­ing a photo ID peo­ple don’t have and have a hard time get­ting,” Ger­sch said. The state “must be able to en­sure that all can get photo ID.”

An es­ti­mated 1 per­cent to 9 per­cent of the state’s vot­ers — 100,000 to R00,000 — do not have a valid voter ID, he said, not­ing there are less than 60 days to Elec­tion Day. Nine coun­ties in the state that have no Pen­nDOT fa­cil­ity, and in 10 the DMV is open only one day a week, he said.

“We think it’s much closer to 1 per­cent,” John Knorr, an at­tor­ney from the state At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice, said. The claim some have made that 1 mil­lion with be with­out a voter ID on Elec­tion Day “is a fan­tasy,” he said.

Knorr ar­gued the burden was “min­i­mal,” and that “most peo­ple can get voter IDs.”

Jus­tices Sea­mus McCaffery and De­bra McCloskey Todd asked why the law had to go into ef­fect prior to the Novem­ber elec­tion.

“What’s the rush?” Todd asked.

“It’s a judg­ment by the Gen­eral Assem­bly,” Knorr re­sponded.

Tak­ing the 1 per­cent es­ti­mate, “89,000 Penn­syl­va­ni­ans could pos­si­bly be dis­en­fran­chised,” McCaffery said, adding, “There’s no fraud, is there?”

“We can’t say that,” Knorr said. The 89,000 “at one time didn’t have the nec­es­sary ID … it’s not to say they can’t get it.”

Re­fer­ring to a state­ment House Ma­jor­ity Leader Mike Turzai made at a state com­mit­tee meet­ing that the law would en­able Mitt Rom­ney to win the state, McCaf­frey sug­gested the law was a po­lit­i­cal move that would “tram­ple on the rights of our cit­i­zens.”

Jus­tice Thomas Say­lor, read­ing a pro­vi­sion in the law stat­ing a voter lack­ing the doc­u­ments nec­es­sary to ob­tain a valid voter ID could fill out an af­fi­davit and be is­sued an ID, asked, “Can that ever hap­pen? I thought Pen­nDOT took the po­si­tion … it will not is­sue [a valid photo ID] be­cause it could be used for pur­poses other than vot­ing.”

Knorr ac­knowl­edged the pro­vi­sion could not be com­plied with, as it would not meet fed­eral re­quire­ments re­gard­ing se­cu­rity, such as an ID valid for use in board­ing an air­plane.

In Vir­ginia, the state mailed a type of voter ID to ev­ery voter, Ger­sch said. In Ge­or­gia, a law was passed al­low­ing ev­ery­one to vote by ab­sen­tee bal­lot. Michi­gan al­lows vot­ers with­out a photo ID to swear on an af­fi­davit at the polling place.

“Other states have been able to re­solve that prob­lem,” he said. “Act 18 is a case study in how not to go about do­ing it.”

“If the Leg­is­la­ture can’t get ev­ery­one the right to vote, the law should not be up­held,” Ger­sch said.

A de­ci­sion on the Voter ID ap­peal is expected be­fore the end of Septem­ber, ac­cord­ing to an on­line ar­ti­cle in The Wall Street Jour­nal. A 3-3 split would af­firm the Com­mon­wealth Court de­ci­sion not to stay im­ple­men­ta­tion of the law.

The court also heard ar­gu­ments on the state’s reap­por­tion­ment plan Sept. 13, but the Novem­ber elec­tions for the state House and Se­nate will be held in ac­cor­dance with the sta­tus quo.

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