Commonwealth Court to Hear Testimony in Voter-ID Case
The ACLU of Pennsylvania has its day in court this week when the civil-rights group and others challenge the legality of the state’s voter-ID law, which was passed in March and requires that all Pennsylvania voters bring a valid government-issued identification to the polls when they vote, from November 2012 on.
To prepare the press for the landmark trial, the ACLU and others held a conference call with reporters yesterday afternoon regarding what to expect from their side when the case starts Wednesday—and why they expect to win.
The case, Applewhite v. Commonwealth, will seek to show the state why the new law disenfranchises voters and, therefore, is in direct violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
The main plaintiff in the case, Viviette Applewhite, is a Philadelphia woman who has voted in every election since 1960. A widower who has never had a driver’s license, she is not able to obtain the proper identification needed to vote come Election Day.
In a conference call yesterday, the ACLU said the court will hear testimony from Applewhite and about 10 witnesses who are personally—and negatively—impacted by the law.
Those representing the plaintiffs, including the ACLU, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, and the Washington, D.C. law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP, will present evidence, which they say shows more than 1 million Pennsylvania voters who will be disenfranchised by the law and the blocs of voters the law is most likely to affect.
Proponents of the law have often said the case will stop voter fraud and makes sense in today’s world, in which identification is required for several other activities, like, as House Majority Leader Mike Turzai noted during debate, going to the pool.
Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, said during the press call that Pennsylvania’s constitution, in Article 1, Section 5, contains a “very specific guarantee of the right to vote,” and added that the voter-ID law “violates this section of the constitution because it actually disenfranchises registered voters, some of whom have voted for decades.”
The law makes “irrational distinctions” between voters, Clarke added. “In other words,” she said, “it makes some voters jump through hoops to get ID, while other voters don’t have to. For example, in-person voters have to present one of the limited forms of acceptable ID, but absentee voters do not.”
On the issue of voter fraud, which Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt alleged in a report last week, Clarke noted there is not going to be any mention of fraud in this case, mostly because there’s no evidence of it ever having happened in the past.
“During the discussion in the Legislature, legislators talked a lot about fraud and the nature to prevent fraud and supporters of the law, of course, widely discussed the fact that that is a problem in elections. But in this case, the lawyers in the case … have agreed with us that there is no evidence of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania. It is a statement of fact that we will be able to put in front of the judge.”
Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai’s now-infamous statement after the law was legalized—in which he stated, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done”—was also brought up.
The statement caused immediate controversy at the time it was said, last month, and following the statement, state Sen. Daylin Leach noted that statement may be used as evidence against the state. Sure enough, it is. Video of his statement will be shown. He was not served a subpoena to testify.
The U.S. Justice Department is probing the law as well, an agency spokesman noted yesterday.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is holding a rally in Harrisburg to protest the Pennsylvania Voter ID law later on today. More than 1,000 people are expected to attend.