(Update) Voter ID on trial in Pennsylvania

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

The voter ID trial in Pennsylvania has gone into extra innings, and is now expected to wrap up sometime next week. The AP reports Balancing voter ID law against voters' rights:

After nine days of testimony by state
government bureaucrats, nationally known experts on statistics and
communications and individual voters frustrated by the new photo ID
requirement, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley put the trial on
hold for a four-day weekend as lawyers prepare to sum up their cases in
closing arguments anticipated next week.

* * *

So far, the debate has been largely hypothetical – the court has blocked enforcement of the March 2012 law since before the presidential election – but the trial verdict will be a major step toward deciding whether it is allowed to take effect.

The law would require all voters to show a Pennsylvania driver's license or another acceptable photo ID with a current expiration date before they may cast ballots in an election. Voters who go to the polls without proper ID could only cast provisional ballots, which would be counted only if they provide local officials with an acceptable ID within six days after the election.

Political intrigue surrounds the trial because the law was approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature without a single Democratic vote and signed by Gov. Tom Corbett at a time other GOP-led states were tightening their voting requirements. Democrats insist the real goal was to discourage voting among older people, minorities and other Democratic-leaning groups.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say they've built a strong, multifaceted case for overturning what would be one of the nation's strictest voter ID laws. And state lawyers have conceded that they are not aware of any cases of voter impersonation.

"There's not only no compelling reason for this law, there's no reason," said Witold Walczak, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania who is on the plaintiffs' legal team.

A major piece of the plaintiffs' case is research by their statistical expert, who estimates "hundreds of thousands" of voters lack one of the three photo ID cards issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation or have IDs that will expire before the Nov. 5 municipal and judicial election. A statistician hired by the state to review that claim suggested that number is inflated but offered no estimate of his own.

Also, the plaintiffs have questioned the value of the special voting-only Pennsylvania Department of State IDs available for free to registered voters who lack other valid ID. They identified several dozen such voters who applied for the free card before last year's election but received them only after the election or did not receive them at all. State officials responded that it is an unfair example because the law wasn't being enforced and such cases would be expedited if it were being enforced.

A half-dozen voters, mostly older women who no longer drive and whose medical condition increasingly limits their mobility, testified for the plaintiffs in prerecorded videos,. They talked about the importance of voting, the pain of walking or even sitting, and their reluctance to impose on others for rides to, say, a distant PennDOT licensing center where they may have to wait in line for an ID photo.

In defending the law, the state's legal team has relied largely on testimony from Corbett administration officials who helped shape the legislation as it moved through the Legislature and helped plug policy gaps once it was signed.

It's up to the plaintiffs to prove that the law is unconstitutionally onerous.

D. Alicia Hickok, a Philadelphia lawyer on the state team, said it's not the state's responsibility to issue every voter an ID, but to ensure that every registered voter has the means to get an ID or an exemption that allows him or her to vote without one.

"I believe that that's what's been done and I think that's what the record has demonstrated," she said.

Whatever the verdict, this issue won't fade away soon: both sides have vowed to appeal a loss to the state Supreme Court.

For a legal analysis of the trial evidence, I recommend Molly Tack-Hooper, staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. Voter ID Trial Day 9: The Commonwealth's Response to Plaintiffs' Statistician:

Day 9 of the voter ID trial was occupied mostly with a heated debate
about the efforts of plaintiffs' statistical expert (Dr. Siskin, who
testified on day 2 of the trial) to quantify the number of Pennsylvania
voters who lack adequate photo ID, and whether a more precise count is
possible.

Previously, Dr. Siskin had calculated that 511,415 registered voters
listed in the official SURE voter database would lack an ID valid for
voting under the voter ID law from PennDOT or the Department of State
(DOS). Today, the commonwealth offered the testimony of Dr. William
Wecker in a weak attempt to demonstrate that Dr. Siskin's analysis was
so imprecise as to be unreliable. The theme of Wecker's critique of Dr.
Siskin's statistical analysis was that Dr. Siskin could and should have
accounted for additional circumstances that might reduce the total
number of disenfranchised voters.

On cross examination, plaintiffs' counsel (Mike Rubin, of Arnold
& Porter) systematically dismantled each of Wecker's suggested
methods of generating a more "reliable" count of voters who lack ID.

One of Wecker's more significant criticisms of Dr. Siskin was that
Siskin did not measure and account for voters who lack a state-issued ID
but do have a student ID that meets the voter ID requirements. Wecker
argued that such a measurement would have significantly reduced Siskin's
tally of voters without ID, and he attempted to demonstrate that such a
calculation is possible by using geo-coded data to determine the number
of voters aged 18-28 who lived within a 1-mile radius of each of
Pennsylvania's colleges and universities. Using this method, Wecker
concluded that there were 48,046 people who likely had access to a
student ID that could be used for voting and should thus have been
excluded from Siskin's list.

As Rubin walked Wecker through this calculation, nearly every
assumption underlying Wecker's analysis fell apart, revealing that
Wecker's calculation dramatically overstated the number of registered
voters who could rely on a student ID to vote.

* * *

Despite Wecker's emphatic refrain that Dr. Siskin's analysis was so
limited as to be unreliable, Wecker conceded, over and over, that there
were inherent limitations on the data available. Wecker stated at
various times that it was a "fool's errand" to try to come up with an
actual count of voters without ID by comparing the SURE and PennDOT and
DOS databases, and that he didn't expect it could be done "perfectly" or
that there was a "perfect" method or number available. "It's just as
hard for me as it is for [Dr. Siskin]," Wecker conceded, describing his
own calculations as a "rough cut" and "not terribly refined." Confronted
repeatedly with the astounding shortcomings in his own methodology,
Wecker ultimately suggested that his flawed calculations were
nonetheless damning because they indicated there could be "some" people
on Siskin's list who should be excluded, and protested that he didn't
have "time, or a chance, or a need" to figure out whether there was a
more reliable statistical method available to Dr. Siskin. Wecker was
merely there to point out that there were possible limitations in
Siskin's process — a fact Siskin already pointed out himself.

Trial resumes on Tuesday, July 30, at 9:15 a.m. with testimony from
Jonathan Marks, Commissioner of the Bureau of Commissions, Elections,
and Legislation with the Pennsylvania Department of State.

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