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Voter ID case focuses on statistics

| Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 7:21 p.m.

HARRISBURG — A statistics expert defended his estimate that “hundreds of thousands” of Pennsylvania voters lack the photo identification they need to vote under a temporarily suspended state law whose constitutionality is on trial in a state court.

Philadelphia consultant Bernard Siskin, hired by the plaintiffs who sued over the March 2012 law, described in detail his research based on a comparison of people on the Pennsylvania Department of State's statewide voter-registration database and a similar database maintained by PennDOT, which issues state driver's licenses and two other IDs acceptable under the law.

That analysis showed that, as of this spring, about 511,000 registered voters either lacked one of the PennDOT-issued IDs or have IDs that have expired or will expire before the Nov. 5 election.

Siskin's testimony bolsters the plaintiffs' central claim in the state Commonwealth Court trial that the law, one of the strictest in the nation, cannot be implemented without disenfranchising a large segment of Pennsylvania's 8.2 million voters.

But the state's statistics expert, William Wecker, has criticized Siskin's research in confidential court papers, excerpts from which the plaintiffs' attorney displayed on a large video screen. Wecker said Siskin's analysis exaggerates the problem by ignoring the fact many voters have other acceptable IDs that are available outside of PennDOT, such as IDs from many universities or the armed forces. He also has said the research includes voters who don't require IDs because they vote by absentee ballots.

Alicia Hickok, a lawyer with the Drinker Biddle & Reath firm and a member of the state's legal team, quizzed Siskin at length about his knowledge of the nooks and crannies of Pennsylvania's voting system, ranging from the non-photo ID cards available to people with religious objections to having photographs taken to the ban on incarcerated felons casting ballots.

Siskin acknowledged that incorporating those variables would reduce the estimated number of voters lacking ID, but he criticized Wecker's methodology and said he stands by his estimate of hundreds of thousands.

Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for the state's legal team, said its lawyers will argue that the special, free photo ID card sanctioned by the Pennsylvania Department of State and issued by PennDOT to voters who cannot obtain an ID through other sources should resolve any lingering problems for registered voters.

“One hundred percent of all eligible voters in Pennsylvania can get photo ID if they need photo ID,” he contended.

The plaintiffs include the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, the NAACP and Philadelphia's Homeless Advocacy Project.

They hope to overturn the law pushed through by the Legislature's Republican majority and GOP Gov. Tom Corbett during the latest presidential election campaign. It has yet to be enforced, however, because the court blocked it in the general election last fall and the judicial and municipal primary in May.

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