Yesterday, closing arguments were heard from attorneys in the Commonwealth Court fight surrounding the State’s Voter ID law. The two and a half week trial put a new spotlight on the significant challenges that the law poses to hundreds of thousands of legitimate Pennsylvania voters, and was the backdrop for a new study released by the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO which demonstrated that confusion over the law’s status disenfranchised over 35,000 voters in the 2012 general election.
At the conclusion of the proceedings yesterday, the State announced that regardless of the Court’s eventual decision, the Voter ID law will not e enforced for the 2013 general election.
Here is a detailed rundown of the evidence and testimony presented during the trial, even more detail is available on the website of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.
Day 1: July 15, 2013 – Opening arguments from the petitioners’ attorney, Michael Rubin, focused on the unconstitutionality of the Voter ID law, which obstructs citizens’ right to vote. The law requires specific photo identification in order to vote—identification that hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians do not already have in their possession. Obtaining the identification required would be difficult for many of these Pennsylvanians. Besides many other obstacles that they may face (not being able to take off work, no access to transportation, etc.) in order to get an ID, in 32 out of our 67 counties, there are either no PennDot locations or locations that are only open 1-2 days a week.
The first to testify was Marian Baker, a 70-year-old woman who voted in every election up until the May 2013 primary. When she voted in the 2012 general election, she was told by a poll worker that her only form of photo identification was expired and she would not be able to use her ID for the primary the following spring. Baker, who has significant health issues, spends most of her time at home. Her only relatives that would be able to take her to the nearest PennDot, her daughter and her son-in-law, work long hours. Baker’s disabilities would make her unable to stand in the long lines to get a photo ID at PennDot.
Mina Pripstein, a Philadelphia woman in her 90s, testified about her experience with the law. She used to vote every chance she got, which was easy and convenient since her polling place is located on the second floor of her apartment complex. In order to get an ID, she would have to take public transportation across the city, which would be difficult for her because of her physical limitations.
Day 2: July 16, 2013 – Dr. Bernard Siskin, a statistician, testified about a 12-step process he used to find that approximately 511,000 registered voters would lack appropriate identification to vote in the November 2013 election. He also conducted a demographic analysis, concluding that the law disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minorities, registered democrats, the youngest (18-22) and oldest (70-90+) voters, and women. Dr. Siskin analyzed geographic information and found that the average driving distance to a PennDot Drivers License Center is 14.11 miles, about 25 minutes round trip. He also found that 28.7% of individuals without proper photo identification will have to travel 30 minutes or more round trip. Those in urban areas might live closer but will most likely have to sit in traffic for hours.
Margaret Pennington, a 90-year old woman from Avondale who is legally blind, testified. She has voted in nearly every election since she was 21, when she said she proudly voted for FDR. Now, she lives with her eldest daughter, who runs a small business next to her house. She is dependent on her daughter for banking, driving, and more. When Mrs. Pennington’s daughter drove her to the nearest Drivers License Center to get a non-driver photo ID, she was told by staff that they did not specialize in that ID and would have to go a center that is over an hour away. As the owner and manager of her business, her daughter could not drive her mother to PennDot without closing or having to pay substitute staff for the day. Mrs. Pennington still does not have a photo ID.
Day 3: June 17, 2013 – Dr. David Marker, a survey statistician at Westat, testified. He was asked to review the design and methodology of a Pennsylvania voter survey that was intended to gather various pieces of information about eligible voters in Pennsylvania, including what ID they have and their knowledge of the voter ID law. Dr. Marker, who is an expert in sampling, surveying methods, and statistics, said that the design of the survey was reasonable.
The next to testify was Adam Bruckner, the founder of Philly Restart, a nonprofit organization that provides the homeless in Philadelphia with food and assistance in obtaining an ID. He said that every Monday afternoon 100-170 people line up to get a check for $13.50 to obtain an ID card from PennDot. When he learned that there would be free voter ID cards offered, he told his clients. However many of them tried and came back to him stating that they were turned away and could not get an ID.
Day 4: July 18, 2013 – Jonathan Marks, an employee of the Bureau of Commissions, Elections, and Legislation, testified and clarified the definitions of active voter, inactive voter, and invalid voter. He went on to say that some Department of State IDs that were applied for at various PennDot locations were labeled as “exceptions” and had to be reviewed by the Department of State before the applicant could receive it. This meant that 22.5% of the people who applied for the DOS ID did not receive their ID when they went to PennDot to apply. Over half of the applicants who were labeled “exceptions” never received their IDs.
Andrew Rogoff, a lawyer at Pepper Hamilton LLP, testified about his struggles to help is father-in-law obtain a DOS ID. After six months of back and forth and miscommunication with PennDot, his father-in-law finally received his ID.
Mr. Royer, the Deputy Secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of State, testified about the “Ready, Set, Vote,” campaign run by the state to educate people on Voter ID. The state spent almost $5 million on advertising, with the “Show It” slogan being the highlight.
Day 5: July 19, 2013 – Diana Mutz, Ph.D., the Samuel A. Stouffer Professor of Communications and Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, testified about the effectiveness of the state’s education and advertising campaign. Her testimony showed that the state failed to educate eligible voters. The “Show It” slogan is flawed in that it is ambiguous and assumes that the voter has an “it” to show. The audio visuals in the television campaign failed to create a clear message and voter hotline and websites showed up in ads in small print. The campaign was used even after the injunction (law set aside for 2012 general), but with subtle changes. The state did little to clarify that voter ID was not needed for those two elections.
Day 6: July 22, 2013 – David Procter, a 67-year-old retired Harrisburg resident with disabilities that make mobility difficult, testified. Although he has a bus pass with a photo, a swim club membership, and a merchant marine ID card, he lacks a driver’s license. Since he does not have a car, he let his expire years ago. The nearest PennDot is less than two miles away from his house, but is not easily accessible by bus. Although he has a niece who lives in Pennsylvania, she has four children and a demanding work schedule, making it impossible for her to take him to PennDot.
Rebecca Oyler, former policy director for the Department of State, discussed the research she did about ID laws in other states and discovered that certain groups of voters (like the elderly) were exceptions in some states.
Day 7: July 23, 2013 – Patricia Norton, a lifelong resident of Berks County, testified. Since the late 1990s, she has had serious health problems—she has not renewed her driver’s license since and rarely travels outside of her neighborhood. Mrs. Norton has no family members in the area who were able to drive her to the nearest PennDot station, which was 45 minutes away. She asked her friends from Reading, which is almost half an hour away, to drive to pick her up and take her to PennDot. Norton was under the impression that Voter ID would be free, but when she applied for one she was told that she would have to pay $13.50. She tried to pay in cash, but they told her they could only accept check or money order. Lacking the physical stamina to get a money order, she went home without an ID. She pointed out that since she is able to vote in person, she is ineligible for an absentee ballot.
Susan Carty, president of the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, testified that there had been an extraordinary volume of calls about Voter ID received by the League. The League has spent a great deal of time and effort trying to educate about the new law, but information on ID requirements was difficult to find and a challenge to understand.
Nadine Marsh has never had a driver’s license, and her family spent a great deal of time helping her obtain the proper identification required by the law to vote. Her daughter drove her to the nearest PennDot, an hour away from her house, only to be told that the office that handles IDs was closed on Mondays (which neither she nor her daughter saw on the website). With the nearest public transportation 20 minutes away from her home, the only way for Marsh to return to PennDot is by someone giving her a ride. The next day, her daughter took her out to the same PennDot. Marsh was told by several staff people that they did not know what she meant by “voter’s ID.” She was told to fill out a request and was then sent home. She eventually received a letter from PennDot, instructing her to return to the office to obtain her ID.
Catherine Howell has been voting since 1948. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease four years ago, and uses a wheelchair when she leaves her apartment. Although she lives close to her children and grandchildren, it is often difficult for her to find a ride. She testified that she has no idea where to obtain proper identification to vote. She receives all of her news from local newspapers and television, and has not read or seen any information. Although Howell’s family are able to take her to vote on elections and for occasional trips, they all have jobs and it is difficult to arrange for a ride during the week.
Day 8: July 24, 2013 – Kelly O’Donnell, an employee at the Department of Aging, said that the state sent out 750,000 letters to seniors with instructions on acquiring identification. However, it was revealed in cross-examination that these letters said one can get an ID either at a Driver’s License Center or at a Photo ID Center when in reality, they can only be received at a Driver’s License Center. O’Donnell also spoke about the millions of Pennsylvania seniors in senior care facilities who would be able to use their identification they receive from that facility. The petitioners pointed out that many senior care facilities actually do not provide identification, and in order to register for transportation to get to PennDot, these seniors need identification. So essentially they are stuck.
Mr. Meyers, a deputy secretary at PennDot, was asked during his cross-examination about the 144 people who applied for IDs before the 2012 general election but did not receive them until after. The state asked for the rest of this cross-examination to continue behind closed doors, and the judge accepted this request. After returning, cross-examination stressed the burden of those citizens living in the nine counties with no PennDot and the 23 counties with PennDot open 1-2 days a week to get an ID. She also pointed out that PennDot locations in Philadelphia have extremely long average wait times.
Day 9: July 25, 2013 – Dr. William Wecker, statistician, testified challenging Dr. Siskin’s study of Pennsylvania voters lacking acceptable ID.
Day 10: July 30, 2013 – Jonathan Marks was called to the stand again, this time by the state. He was asked again about the “exceptions” to the Department of State ID, and said that the number has decreased. In cross-examination, he testified that a number of colleges and universities do not supply appropriate identification and that there are no lists that track which personal care facilities are supplying appropriate identification.
Megan Sweeney, Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, testified about a project plan for voter ID that included conducting educational outreach. During cross-examination, more was revealed about the holes and factual issues in the state’s outreach.
Bryan Niederberger from BLDS, LLC, was called to the stand to statistically analyze the 615 “exceptions” noted in Mr. Marks testimony. He was cross-examined the next day.
Day 11: July 31, 2013 – In cross-examination of Mr. Niederberger, petitioners made it clear that the state did little to ensure that all eligible voters obtained identification.
Day 12: August 1, 2013 – After two weeks, the trial came to a close. Unexpectedly, the attorneys for the state said they would be willing to extend the preliminary injunction through the November election.
Petitioners closed the case by saying that the Voter ID law “unreasonably and unnecessarily burdens the right of Pennsylvanians to vote.” The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania states, “Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.” The attorney argued that Act 18 is unconstitutional for a variety of reasons, as displayed by the petitioners during the trial.
The judge is set to make a decision on the preliminary injunction no later than August 19th.