Opening arguments made in challenge to controversial Voter ID law.
HARRISBURG (July 25) – Attorneys for voters who filed a lawsuit against the state’s controversial Voter ID law said it is a blatantly partisan ruse that is not in the interest of legitimate voters.
Attorneys representing the commonwealth said the law is a rational necessity in the 21st century.
Opening arguments and some witness testimony highlighted the first day of the trial before Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, who will rule on whether to delay implementing the law until after the Nov. 6 general election.
While Simpson’s ruling is eagerly awaited by both sides, whichever side loses is expected to swiftly appeal to the state Supreme Court.
“These people are typical of the very large number of Pennsylvania voters who stand to lose their right to vote if this law goes into effect,” said David Gersch, of Washington D.C.-based Arnold and Porter LLP, during opening arguments.
Gersch made those opening statements on behalf of Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old great grandmother from Philadelphia, and nine other eligible voters who testified about hurdles to obtaining the proper documents to comply with the new law.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Cawley’s arguments were similar to those made by the law’s supporters in the Legislature – this is the 21st century and showing a photo ID for a variety of reasons is rational.
“We will show the court that in this day and age, nothing is more rational than requiring a photo ID when coming to the polls,” Cawley said during his opening statements.
The lawsuit seeks a temporary injunction to prevent the law from going into effect on the November 6 general election.
According to the law, voters will be required on the Nov. 6 Election Day and thereafter to show an eligible photo ID.
Several voting and civil rights organizations have also joined in the lawsuit, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Advancement Project and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.
Judge Simpson said the case could last five to seven days and his decision could be made the week of August 13.
Applewhite said she does not have a valid photo ID. Her lawyers pointed out during her testimony that her recently obtained birth certificate and Social Security card have different last names, creating another hurdle to obtaining a photo ID.
Other witnesses testified about similar instances of absent documentation preventing them from obtaining a photo ID.
Cawley said the plaintiffs’ complaints represented the “worst case scenario.”
The state’s attorneys seemed to focus their cross-examination on establishing whether testifiers would be eligible for the recently announced Department of State Voter ID cards, which are expected to be available at the end of August.
To obtain the state Voter ID card, a voter would need to travel to a PennDOT drivers license center and show a Social Security number and two proofs of address, like a utility bill or other mailings with the voter’s name and address.
Cawley said in opening arguments the there is a “perceived difficulty” with going to PennDOT for the card, although the law was passed in March. He and Kevin Schmidt of Gov. Tom Corbett’s legal staff, repeatedly asked testifiers if they have trouble going to their local PennDOT drivers license centers and if they had Social Security cards and proof of address?
A number of the testifiers said they were assisted by an organization called Face To Face in Philadelphia, which offers a range of services to low or fixed income individuals in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.
Veronica Ludt, a part-time attorney with the organization, testified as an expert witness on obtaining documentation for low income residents to receive a photo ID. She said obtaining a photo ID was a “very confusing and expensive and somewhat burdensome” process for many of her clients, who she said tend to be poor or transient individuals.
The plaintiffs are expected to call Matt Berreto, a political science professor, to testify about a survey regarding the number voters potentially negatively impacted by the law. Court will resume a 9 a.m. in the Judicial Center.