First Posted: 8/1/2013
HARRISBURG — The 12-day trial over Pennsylvania’s tough voter-identification law ended Thursday in a courtroom clash, with the state contending that officials have provided safeguards to ensure any registered voter can easily get the mandatory photo ID and plaintiffs urging the judge to overturn the law because it violates voters’ constitutional rights.
“It is time to put an end to this and enjoin the law,” Jennifer Clarke, director of Philadelphia’s Public Interest Law Center and a member of the plaintiffs’ legal team, told Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley.
Philadelphia lawyer Alicia Hickok, arguing for the state, said the plaintiffs failed to show that the law is unconstitutional.
State officials have done “whatever is possible, whatever is necessary and whatever is legal” to ensure that voters know about the new law and how to apply for a free, voting-only card if they lack any other acceptable forms of ID, Hickok said.
The plaintiffs are the NAACP, the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, the Philadelphia’s Homeless Advocacy Project and two individual voters.
It was unclear how soon McGinley would rule on the case and how his decision would dovetail with an expected review by the full Commonwealth Court before it reaches the state Supreme Court. Both sides have vowed to appeal a negative decision.
Hickok told McGinley the state would agree to postpone enforcement of the March 2012 law for a third time in the Nov. 5 municipal and judicial election, but the plaintiffs’ lawyers demanded concessions.
Washington lawyer Michael Rubin said any such stipulation should remain in force until all appeals have been exhausted.
McGinley said he would rule on a requested preliminary injunction by Aug. 19.
Court orders have blocked enforcement of the law since Republican Gov. Tom Corbett signed it in March 2012. Critics say the law, approved by the GOP majority in the Legislature without any Democratic support, was aimed at discouraging seniors, minorities and other Democratic-leaning groups from voting.
In the trial, plaintiffs emphasized apparent problems in processing and distributing the free, voting-only ID card that the Pennsylvania Department of State created in August as a safety net for voters unable to get other acceptable IDs. The state relaxed requirements for the special card in September and has issued more than 3,800 of them so far.
The plaintiffs say at least dozens of registered voters who applied for the cards before last year’s election did not receive them before the election, meaning they could cast only provisional ballots if the law were being enforced.
The plaintiffs also point to research by their hired statistical expert, who testified that “hundreds of thousands” of Pennsylvania voters lack the photo IDs they need to cast regular ballots in the Nov. 5 general election if the law is in effect.
State officials testified they have taken decisive action to fix flaws in implementing the law and contend the present system ensures any registered voter who lacks an acceptable ID can obtain one.
They emphasized officials’ efforts to educate voters about the new law, including last year’s $5 million multimedia campaign that urged voters with driver’s licenses or other acceptable ID to “show it.”