State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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For voter ID, state suggests witnesses should ask their lawyers

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Jul 23, 2013 10:08 PM
Thumbnail image for Voter-Registration-Identification-card.jpg

State lawyers defending Pennsylvania's voter identification law are pointing out that those who claim they've been unable to get a valid ID haven't exhausted every possibility - even if that possibility comes from the legal team bringing them into court.

Challengers have presented several witnesses who testify they've been unable to get the proper ID for voting because they can't get to a PennDOT licensing center. They cite age, pain, disability, and difficulty finding a ride.

State lawyers have persistently noted the options each witness has overlooked - getting ID by mail, for some, or insisting that a family member give them a ride.

Last week, 90-year-old Margaret Pennington took the stand. Her in-court presence made her stand out in her genre of witnesses - most of the testimony taken from people who claim they're unable to get ID has been video recorded and played in court.

Under cross-examination, Pennington said a driver brought her to court. A state lawyer asked her repeatedly if she would ask the driver to take her to a PennDOT center nearby before driving her home.

"I want to ask one more time, would you be willing to ask Carl to take you to the PennDOT location today?" asked Todd Hutchison, a lawyer with the firm Drinker Biddle & Reath, hired by the state to help argue the case.

"He's going to take us back to Avondale, yes," said Pennington.

"Would you consider asking him to take you to the PennDOT location in Harrisburg?" Hutchison asked.

"Well, I guess so," Pennington said.

"Will you ask him?" Hutchison asked.

"Yeah, I'll ask him," Pennington said.

Similar questions have been asked of witnesses who testified in a pre-recorded video.

A spokesman for attorneys defending voter ID said the questions don't have bearing on the constitutionality of the law - it isn't affected by whether ancillary groups and legal teams are helping people get ID.

"It's a funny kind of question," said Ben Geffen, a lawyer from the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, part of the team challenging voter ID. "I would think that if there's any kind of entity that is suited to give people rides to PennDOT locations, it would be the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. And so I think the question really is, why isn't PennDOT making IDs more available to people?"

The trial is now scheduled to stretch into a third week. The commonwealth is expected to begin presenting its case in the next two days.


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