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Lawyers outline arguments to judge on Pennsylvania voter ID law

| Monday, July 15, 2013, 4:09 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania's pending voter-identification law — one of the strictest in the nation — would turn the right to vote into a privilege and disenfranchise a large number of voters, an attorney for the plaintiffs said as a trial on a constitutional challenge got under way on Monday.

The lawyer, Michael Rubin, charged that the Republican majority in the Legislature and GOP Gov. Tom Corbett rebuffed suggested changes to accommodate the special needs of certain groups, such as older people with limited mobility, in obtaining a photo ID that the law requires all voters to show at the polls before they may cast ballots.

Faced with a choice, “almost invariably ... they chose to make it harder,” Rubin, a Washington attorney who is a member of the plaintiffs' legal team, told Judge Bernard McGinley.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Timothy Keating argued that the plaintiffs, who include the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, the NAACP and Philadelphia's Homeless Advocacy Project, lack the evidence to overturn the law.

In Pennsylvania, a law approved by the Legislature is presumed to be constitutional unless evidence shows that it “clearly, palpably and plainly violates the constitution,” and the evidence in this case falls short, Keating maintained.

Keating said special provisions have been made to help seniors, veterans and college students obtain acceptable IDs. A special, free ID card for voters who lack a state driver's license or ID card issued by the state Department of Transportation or other acceptable ID is available through the Pennsylvania Department of State.

“Hundreds of thousands” of Pennsylvanians, who are disproportionately low-income, elderly and minorities, won't be able to vote under the state's law enacted in 2012, Rubin said.

The law requires voters to show photo ID, such as driver's licenses, municipal government, nursing home, college or military IDs, before casting a ballot. Put on hold last year shortly before the presidential election because of a court challenge, the case is back before Commonwealth Court on whether to overturn the law.

The trial is expected to last up to two weeks.

McGinley, a Democrat, sat on a dais beneath a blue Commonwealth Court seal overlooking a packed courtroom of about 60 people — about one-third of them reporters; another third. advocates and lobbyists; and another third, lawyers.

Keating said requiring voters without ID to go to a PennDOT center and have a photo taken is “not unduly burdensome.”

Keating said that there are 8 million registered voters in Pennsylvania and that fewer than 6 million voted in the last election.

PennDOT issues more than 9 million licenses and IDs, he said.

A new Department of State ID will be issued to registered voters without documentation, state officials say.

Under Act 18, “anyone registered to vote in Pennsylvania, who wants to vote, can,” Keating said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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