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Voter ID card issues slow trial

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 8:51 p.m.

HARRISBURG — The eighth day of a trial on Pennsylvania's voter identification law ended in disarray Wednesday as plaintiffs' attorneys contesting the law's constitutionality refused to rest their case until they learn more about potential problems in issuing mandatory photo ID cards.

Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley expressed impatience at the slow pace of the trial and cleared the courtroom briefly to huddle with lawyers from both sides, but court recessed for the day with little sign of a compromise. The state did, however, present some testimony in defense of the law.

At issue are about 500 registered voters who were rejected for a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation identification card last year and were referred to the Department of State for a free, voting-only ID card developed in August. The Department of State card was offered as a last resort for voters who certify that they do not have other IDs acceptable for voting.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say more than 100 of those voters applied for a special voting-only ID card before the 2012 presidential election, but did not receive them until after the election or, in some cases, not at all.

Enforcement of the March 2012 voter ID law has been blocked by court orders since before the election, but lawyers say last year's cases point up the possibility that future voters could be disenfranchised by the law — the central issue in the lawsuit. The plaintiffs' cite their consultant's projections that the law would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.

“There's a lot of ways that this law disenfranchises people, but this is a very direct way,” said Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, a member of the plaintiffs' legal team that includes the NAACP, the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters and the Homeless Advocacy Project.

PennDOT confidentiality restrictions limited disclosures about some of the voters in question, fueling the mutual distrust that is increasingly apparent between the two sides.

Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for the state legal team, said the voters cited by the plaintiffs include 144 voters who wound up obtaining a PennDOT ID card after all and should not have been included on the list. Most of the others have received either a PennDOT ID, a “secure” card that requires documentation, or the easier-to-obtain Department of State card, he said. The rest were rejected by county officials, rejected for failing to register to vote, or are awaiting confirmation of registration, he said.

Two Corbett administration officials testified as the respondents opened their case Wednesday.

Kelly O'Donnell, operations and management director at the state Department of Aging, conceded under questioning by the plaintiffs' attorneys that she put out erroneous information about the photo ID requirement after its March 2012 approval.

O'Donnell said she erred in telling a local senior center last year that voters could get the IDs from any PennDOT photo center, when most people seeking IDs need to go to one of the fewer PennDOT licensing centers. Subsequent testimony indicated it was an easy mistake to make.

Kurt Myers, a PennDOT deputy secretary, testified that PennDOT has 71 licensing centers, each with its own photo center, plus at least 28 stand-alone photo centers.

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