Sparring Over Numbers in Voter ID Trial

Jul 17, 2013

The battle over numbers swells anew in the voter ID trial, headed into its third day in Commonwealth Court Wednesday.

Tuesday's testimony began with a statistician's analysis that more than half a million registered voters in Pennsylvania would have no valid ID issued by PennDOT or the Department of State in the upcoming general election.

The statistician, Bernard Siskin, Ph.D., was hired by the legal team challenging voter ID. He said about half of his estimate (251,879 registered voters) have no photo ID valid for voting on record with PennDOT or the Department of State. The other half were found to have ID that would be expired by the November 2013 general election.

The commonwealth will call its own analyst when it presents its case, which is likely to happen early next week. There is apparent disagreement between the two experts over the number of registered voters found not to have valid photo identification acceptable at the polls under the voter ID law.

State lawyers said the estimate doesn't account for tens of thousands of people who may have another kind of ID acceptable for voting, like one issued by a nursing home or in-state college. They also said the data set doesn't consider registered voters who may be ineligible to vote — for instance, the deceased or convicted felons.

"It could explain some number of the expired licenses, could it not?" said Alicia Hickok, a lawyer with Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, arguing in the law's defense alongside the Office of the Attorney General and the governor's Office of General Counsel.

Siskin said the numbers state lawyers posited to reflect those populations are inflated.

"Even if I accepted all (the state's) numbers, we're still going to have hundreds of thousands (of people)," Siskin said.

At one point during his cross-examination he said the questions about his data set were hypotheticals, forcing him to make assumptions.

"You can assume away the problem," Siskin said. "You can assume away anything."

He also noted that, according to his analysis, registered voters without I-D are significantly more likely to be minorities — specifically, black, Hispanic or Asian — more likely to be to be very old or very young, and more likely to be Democrats.

The state's lawyers defending the law have said from the outset that it doesn't matter how many registered voters are shown not to have the proper ID for voting, but they still spent the better part of an afternoon questioning the data used in Siskin's analysis.

"Our argument is the entire premise of their math is flawed, because it overlooks the primary principle," said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, spokesman for the Office of General Counsel, part of the team defending the voter ID law. "100 percent of the people who need a photo ID can get a photo ID, and can get one today."

Lawyers challenging voter ID suggested in opening arguments Monday they would present evidence showing the governor's office was warned by state agencies the voter ID law could disenfranchise some groups - the elderly and the disabled - if it were not changed. The evidence was expected to be presented Wednesday. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said it's now more likely the memo will be shared Friday, or possibly next week.