HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s pending voter-identification law — one of the strictest in the nation — would turn the right to vote into a privilege and disenfranchise a large number of voters, an attorney for the plaintiffs said as a trial on a constitutional challenge got underway Monday.
The lawyer, Michael Rubin, charged that the Republican majority in the Legislature and GOP Gov. Tom Corbett rebuffed suggested changes to accommodate the special needs of certain groups, such as older people with limited mobility, in obtaining a photo ID that the law requires all voters to show at the polls before they may cast ballots.
Faced with a choice, “almost invariably … they chose to make it harder,” Rubin, a Washington attorney who is a member of the plaintiffs’ legal team, told Judge Bernard McGinley.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Timothy Keating argued the plaintiffs, who include the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, the NAACP and Philadelphia’s Homeless Advocacy Project, lack the evidence to overturn the law.
In Pennsylvania, a law approved by the Legislature is presumed to be constitutional unless evidence shows that it “clearly, palpably and plainly violates the constitution” and the evidence in this case falls short, Keating maintained.
Keating said special provisions have been made to help seniors, veterans and college students obtain acceptable IDs. A special, free ID card for voters who lack a state driver’s license or ID card issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation or other acceptable ID also is available through the Pennsylvania Department of State.
The law stirred a bitterly partisan debate during last year’s presidential campaign, with critics calling it a cynical attempt by Republicans to discourage voting by groups that tend to vote Democratic. Republicans defended the law as a safeguard against voter fraud, although the state officials have acknowledged they know of no cases of voter impersonation.
Although the law was signed 16 months ago, the court blocked enforcement in the 2012 presidential election, when it was originally to be put into effect, and during the municipal and judicial primaries in May.
The court case turns on whether the law can be implemented in a way that ensures that every voter who needs a photo ID can get one.
Rubin said potentially hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters still lack proper IDs and suggested that relying on PennDOT to issue most of the IDs, including the special state card, may be part of the reason.
While the state’s 9,300 polling places are relatively close to the voters, the IDs are available only at the 71 PennDOT licensing centers around the state and there are none in nine of the 67 counties.
“Using PennDOT to distribute IDs cannot, has not and will not work,” Rubin said.
The plaintiffs also played video testimony by two women to illustrate the diverse problems that may be compounded by the law.
In one video, Marian Baker of Reading, who has been using a walker since she broke her leg in 2008, said her PennDOT non-driver ID card expired in 2011 and that she didn’t renew it because officials at the closest PennDOT office told her she would have to travel to the office and she did not want to wait in line.
Based on that information, she said she did not vote in the 2012 general election or the May primary — breaking a record of voting in every election since 1960.
The other woman, 92-year-old Mina Kanter-Pripstein, whose polling place is located in the Philadelphia apartment house where she lives, said she votes “every chance I get.” But she described the increasing difficulty she has in walking and said the prospect of traveling to the local PennDOT center to renew her ID might not be worth the effort.
In that case, “I just wouldn’t vote,” she said.