Local

Some Pa. Voter IDs Were Inaccessible, Lawyer Says

(Credit: John Ostapkovich)

(Credit: John Ostapkovich)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Plaintiffs seeking to overturn Pennsylvania’s voter-identification law zeroed in Thursday on a few dozen registered voters who sought, but did not receive, photo ID cards before last year’s presidential election as examples of how voters could be disenfranchised if the law takes effect.

The March 2012 law remains in limbo, unenforced by order of the court, and the trial, which began Monday, will help determine whether it is implemented or struck down. Both sides agree the state Supreme Court will ultimately decide the case.

The focus on the fourth day of a Commonwealth Court trial was the special Pennsylvania Department of State ID card that was developed as a simplified alternative for registered voters who couldn’t get a PennDOT ID card to comply with the new requirement that all voters show acceptable photo IDs before they can vote. The special card can be used only for voting.

In questioning a state official on the witness stand, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Witold Walczak said a review of a state computer spreadsheet identified 42 registered voters who applied for the special cards before the election but did not receive them until afterward, sometimes months later, and 82 other registered voters who applied before the election but had not received cards.

Under the law, voters who show up at the polls without photo IDs could cast provisional ballots but those would be counted only if voters provide a valid ID within six days.

“Those 124 duly registered voters would not have been able to cast a (regular) ballot” if the law had been in effect, said Walczak, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

“Does that undermine your confidence in the integrity of the election if this law goes into effect?” Walczak asked Jonathan Marks, who heads the state’s Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation.

Marks did not dispute Walczak’s numbers, but said officials continue to refine the identification system jointly administered by his office and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Of the more than 500 people originally listed in the spreadsheet as having been referred to the State Department, which includes the bureau, after being turned down for a PennDOT card, 144 should not have been listed because they obtained PennDOT cards after all, Marks said.

The spreadsheet “doesn’t tell the whole story,” he said.

Marks said his agency would have tried with “a lot more urgency” to resolve such problems by Election Day if the law were being enforced and would have provided any documentation about pending ID applications to the counties involved to expedite the process. He stressed that presidential elections are the busiest time for elections officials.

Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for the state legal team, said most people listed on the spreadsheet have received the special cards and only a few have not because they did not register to vote or were turned down by county officials.

“How are these people being left out,” he asked.

The law, which would be one of the strictest in the nation, was approved by the Legislature’s Republican majority without any Democratic votes and signed by GOP Gov. Tom Corbett.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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