Voter ID Challengers Hint at Telling Memo

Jul 16, 2013

Lawyers challenging the voter ID law say the governor knew it was trouble.

In the opening argument for the plaintiffs, attorney Michael Rubin, said he'll share a memo sent by state agencies to the Corbett administration warning the law would disenfranchise elderly and disabled eligible voters unless changes were made. The administration did not push lawmakers to make the suggested changes.

The memo, Rubin said, is from November 2011 — several months before the passage of voter ID.

"It's the case," said Rubin outside the courthouse Monday afternoon. He said it would be presented as evidence Wednesday.

The spokesman for the attorneys defending the law dismissed the reference to the memo, saying it is, for now, merely a claim.

"We'll address the evidence as it comes up," said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, with the Office of General Counsel, arguing on the governor's behalf. "But the directives have been clear from this administration ... anyone who's eligible to vote in Pennsylvania and who needs a photo ID in order to do that can get one, and can get one free of charge."

So sums up the commonwealth's position: that it has met its burden to allow "liberal access" to photo IDs required to vote. Plaintiffs, represented by a legal team led by the American Civil Liberties Union, say the photo ID requirement should be struck down as unconstitutional because it presents an undue burden on voters and would result in thousands of voters being unable to vote.

The voter ID law has not yet been enforced. Commonwealth Court temporarily blocked it during the 2012 general election and this year's primary over concerns the state had not allowed enough time for implementation and voter education. The case in Commonwealth Court now is over the law's soundness under the state constitution, which has stronger protections for voting rights than the U.S. Constitution. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

Two witnesses testified Monday for the plaintiffs that they were unable to get photo ID they'll need to vote. Marion Baker, of Reading, and Mina Kanter-Pripstein, of Philadelphia, are both senior citizens, and both have mobility problems. They said in separate video depositions that they can get to their polling places, but going to their local PennDOT centers to have their expired driver's licenses renewed would be too arduous.

Baker said she inquired about renewing her ID by phone, but was told the only way was to come in person to the licensing center. Kanter-Pripstein said after considering the ordeal of getting to the licensing center, she decided she "wouldn't bother ... I just wouldn't vote."

Hagen-Frederiksen said their testimony does not suggest a flaw in the voter ID law.

"They don't have IDs because they haven't attempted to obtain them," Hagen-Frederiksen said. "We continue to maintain that the system is available for them if they need the IDs."

A lawyer with the state asked Kanter-Pripstein, 92, how she could say voting was important to her if she was so willing to forgo it over a trip to PennDOT.

"I'd like you to come back and ask me that when you're 93," she said.

Voter fraud, the rationale provided by state lawmakers who supported the voter ID law, merited few mentions in the first day of the trial. Lawyers for the state in court proceedings last year stipulated they could point to no instance of voter impersonation fraud, which could be combatted by requiring voters to show photo ID.

Outside the courthouse Monday, Hagen-Frederiksen said talk of voter fraud is "misdirection."

"The issue is beyond that," he continued. "The issue is voter confidence in the elections, and that's really the directive in the voter ID statute — to ensure that there's confidence in the elections, and to ensure as the constitution of Pennsylvania spells out, that we differentiate between individuals who are eligible to vote and individuals who are not eligible to vote."