State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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State begins case in voter ID trial

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Jul 24, 2013 9:24 PM

Eight days into trial, lawyers defending Pennsylvania's voter identification law still may ask the presiding judge to dismiss the case entirely.

Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, spokesman for the lawyers defending the requirement, said a motion to may be filed to dismiss certain witness testimony and claims made by the challengers.

"We don't believe that they've shown any evidence to support their case in principle and we don't believe that the allegations have been supported by what's been heard so far in court," Hagen-Frederiksen said. "So we'll certainly consider asking the judge to simply dismiss the matter." He added state attorneys can't make such a motion until the challengers rest their case. That may not happen for several days because of unresolved issues between the two legal teams.

The state began presenting its case on Thursday in the trial over whether voter ID is constitutional. The day was marked by closed-door discussions and litanies of numbers in a dispute over how many people may have been unable to get special voting ID cards last year.

Challengers say some 500 people who tried to get the state-issued identification for voting either never received them or received them after the 2012 general election. State attorneys say some of those people were never granted IDs for a variety of reasons - some of them weren't registered voters or already had an ID on record with the state. But the reasons aren't being disclosed for all the voters.

"The Supreme Court says the law is unconstitutional if people are disenfranchised and if the burden on voting is so significant as to result in disenfranchisement," said Jennifer Clarke, one of the lawyers challenging voter ID. "And there's a lot of ways that this law disenfranchises people, but this is a very direct way. That is, a person goes in tries to get an ID and doesn't get it in time for the election."

State attorneys point out the law hasn't yet been enforced, so voters who received their IDs after last year's general election were still able to cast ballots.

Petitioners attempted to underscore the confusion surrounding voter ID right after the law was passed. Kelly O'Donnell, an employee for the Department of Aging, testified she misdirected voters about where to get certain IDs after the law was first passed last year. Hagen-Frederiksen said such inaccurate information has since been corrected with the state's informational campaign.

Kurt Myers, a deputy secretary at PennDOT, testified customers in search of ID for voting only received it for free if they specifically asked for an ID for voting purposes. He said clerks at licensing centers aren't instructed to ask customers if they need ID for voting purposes.

Clarke, arguing against voter ID, said past testimony has established that voters who didn't volunteer the information by "saying the magic word," were made to pay for their ID, even though it should have been free if it was for voting purposes.

During cross examination, Myers said "there's absolutely no reason at all" not to require clerks to ask customers if they need the ID for voting. "If it will help, I'll put an edict out tomorrow to make that happen," he said.

*This story was edited at 11:06 a.m. on 7/25/13


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