Battle over voter ID law goes back to court

A two-week trial over Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law began Monday, with the judge hearing from a couple voters who’ve struggled to get an acceptable photo ID.

Republican lawmakers passed the law last year, saying it will boost voter confidence in elections. Democrats opposed it, saying it would disenfranchise groups voters such as minorities and the elderly.

The law has been on hold due to opponents winning a temporary injunction last year.

“It’s got to be something you can get relatively easily. They want you to go to PennDOT. Who would come up with something like that? There are nine counties in the state that have no PennDOT,” said David Gersch, one of the lawyers opposing the voter ID law.

Gersch pointed to other states which have voter ID laws, but have made it easier for registered voters to get them.

During opening arguments Monday in Commonwealth Court, attorney Michael Rubin called the law unconstitutional and said “hundreds of thousands” of voters would be disenfranchised because of it.

Lawyers for the state argue since the law’s implementation last year, the state has had time to do more voter education and has made an ID available strictly for voting purposes.

“The issue’s going to be implementation. Has there been enough time for those who need an ID to get an ID? And, is there an opportunity for those who need an ID to get one? And, we believe the answers to those questions is yes,” said Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Office of General Counsel.

Frederiksen pointed out some of the plaintiffs who were originally part of the lawsuit last year have since been able to get an ID.

That includes Viviette Applewhite, who was 93 when she joined the groups suing the state. In her case, she said someone had stolen her purse and she lost documents needs to get an acceptable ID. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, she later was able to get an ID after a PennDOT worker helped her through her unique situation.

“Five of the original seven plaintiffs in this case, who claimed that they were not able to get IDs, have been dismissed from the case because they now have IDs,” said Frederiksen.

Attorneys opposing the law say that’s not evidence that the system is working.

“Those are people who tried for years. That’s not supposed to be the requirement for voting. You’re not supposed to have to jump through hoops in order to vote,” said Gersch.

The judge heard from two voters via video who explained why they couldn’t get an ID to vote.

One witness was Marian Baker a former local Republican committeewoman from Reading.

She said her drivers license expired in 2011. She didn’t see the need to renew it, as she doesn’t feel she’s in good enough condition to drive. She suffered a heart attack in 2008.

When she went to her polling place in November 2012, she was asked for an ID but allowed to vote even without one. She said a poll worker told her she’d need it for the next election. At the time, that was true.

But, a judge later decided to continue the so-called “soft roll out” of the voter ID law through the May primary. Currently, voters are asked for ID but not required to show it.

Baker didn’t know that, so she didn’t vote, thinking she wouldn’t be allowed. She still does not have an acceptable ID, saying in her condition she can’t wait in line for hours at a PennDOT facility.

The trial is expected to continue through next week. Regardless of how Judge Bernard Bigley rules, people on both sides of the issue anticipate the case will head to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.