HARRISBURG, PA — One thing Commonwealth lawyers will not be arguing as the hearing for the Voter ID Law unfolds this week is that the law was necessary to combat existing voter fraud.
There is a stipulation signed by both sides that says, “There have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania, and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations in other states;” and, “The parties are not aware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and do not have direct personal knowledge of in-person voter fraud elsewhere.”
In the past, supporters of the law have said it was needed to prevent in-person voter fraud. During the hearing, however, lawyers for the administration of Governor Tom Corbett are expected to argue instead that the law is necessary to maintain confidence in the electoral system in the state and to prevent fraud in the future. The groups bringing a lawsuit regarding the law—the Advancement Project, Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union, and the law firm of Arnold & Porter—don’t buy that. They argue, in court documents, that “the integrity of elections cannot be enhanced by burdening the franchise for so many qualified citizens, and this is especially so when the fraud to be deterred by the law is so minimal.”
The problem with the law, from the viewpoint of the petitioners, is that, according to the PA Department of State (DOS), there are some 750,000 state residents who don’t have state driving licenses or other acceptable forms of photo identification. Therefore, these people may be disenfranchised in the election this fall. The estimate from the petitioners is that the number of people without acceptable voter IDs is actually more than one million, and this includes about 1,470 in Wayne County and 2,252 in Pike.
In response to these concerns, Department of State Secretary Carol Aichele has announced the creation of a new form of photo ID that may be used only for the purpose of voting. According to a press release, “The DOS voting cards, which will be issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, will be available to registered voters who are not able to provide all of the documents they would normally need to obtain a photo ID from PennDOT, such as a birth certificate.”
“As we work to ensure that Pennsylvanians have the identification they need to vote this fall, this new card will provide another photo ID option for voters,” Aichele said.
A statement from the groups bringing the lawsuit said, “Clearly the state realizes it has a huge problem on its hands. Unfortunately, this isn’t the solution. People born in Pennsylvania without birth certificates will still have to make three trips to vote—two to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and one to the polls. That is assuming they have the other materials they need, such as their Social Security number.
“This does not change the fact that the commonwealth is expecting people without drivers licenses to somehow get to PennDOT centers—sometimes miles from their homes—during limited hours. It certainly is of no help to the elderly or those with disabilities who will still have to find a way to PennDOT and potentially wait hours to get the new ID.”
A five- to seven-day hearing on the law is scheduled to begin on July 25, and the groups bringing the lawsuit are asking for a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the law.