Follow What’s Happening at the Voter ID Trial!
The Law Center and our partners began trial on July 25th in Commonwealth Court on our motion for preliminary injunction. See below for a synopsis of each day’s events.
Courtroom 3002, Pennsylvania Judicial Center
601 Commonwealth Ave., Harrisburg
Day 1: W 7/25 – 10am – 5pm
The first day of trial began with opening statements, with Arnold & Porter’s David
Gercsh speaking for the plaintiffs, establishing the many compelling reasons why the Voter ID law violates citizens’ Constitutional right to vote:
- A large number of citizens – on the scale of one million- will be adversely affected by the ID requirement
- The PennDOT ID required by the law to vote can be extremely difficult to obtain, and few people are eligible or have access to the other types of permissible ID
- There are several irrational distinctions in the law, resulting in a far heavier burden being placed on some voters (like in-person voters) than others (absentee voters)
- The Commonwealth’s nebulous plan to release a new voting ID card at the end of August is a “band-aid” solution that does not match the scale of the problem
We then heard moving testimony from six witnesses who do not have photo ID or the documentation required to obtain it. Viviette Applewhite – a 93-year-old who once marched with Dr. King and has been voting for president since Roosevelt was on the ballot – finally was able to track down her birth certificate with the assistance of a lawyer. But even this is not enough. Since the name on her birth certificate is her maiden name, she would need proof of her name change- the records of which are in Mississippi - to meet the Voter ID law’s requirements. Wilola Lee told how she has spent several years and significant money trying to obtain her birth certificate from the state of Georgia, who told her she simply “does not exist.” While she does have several types of photo identification, none are acceptable under the law. Ana Gonzalez was born in Puerto Rico, and has also been told that her birth certificate cannot be located. Worse, she cannot fly to Puerto Rico to investigate in person because she does not have ID to get on a plane- the type of catch 22 we heard about from many of our witnesses.
Trial closed yesterday with expert witness Veronica Ludt, the legal services director of Face to Face legal clinic in Germantown. Ms. Ludt has extensive experience helping people get ID and spoke to the tremendous barriers many people- most of whom are low-income – will have to face to obtain the documentation required by the law.
The full, unofficial transcript from the first day of trial is available here.
Day 2: Th 7/26 – 9am – 3pm
The second day of trial focused on statistical evidence about the number of people who stand to be negatively impacted by the law. Most of the day was spent questioning expert witness Matt Barreto, an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Washington in Seattle and an expert in survey science and barriers to elections. Barreto detailed his findings from a telephone survey he conducted in Pennsylvania in June and July to measure the impact this new law would have.
His results are alarming; 1/3 of voters in Pennsylvania did not know about the new ID requirements at all. Worse, while almost all registered voters – 98.8% – believed they had appropriate ID to vote, 12.8% of those individuals were incorrect. Further, of the 6 million who voted in Pennsylvania in 2008, ¾ of a million (about 13%) do not have the type of ID needed to vote in November. Among people who do not currently have one of the accepted forms of ID, 1 in 4 also does not have the documents needed to obtain ID. This amounts to 379,000 people, 174,000 of whom voted in 2008.
The results of his survey also illustrated the disproportionate effect the ID requirement would have on certain groups, such as women, Latino voters, those aged 18-34 or 75+, and those with less than a high school education. The law also stands to disproportionately impact those who are least able to obtain the ID they’ll need: 30% of individuals using a bicycle or public transportation and 42% of individuals who lack regular access to transportation do not have the appropriate ID to vote under the new law. Although these individuals are able to travel to polling places (most of which are within walking distance), they lack the means to travel to PennDOT offices. Similarly, 22% of individuals who make less than $20,000 a year and 18% of those who live in urban areas lack required identification. Mr. Barreto also noted that the awareness campaign the Commonwealth is planning will likely not suffice, especially considering the short time frame between now and the election, and the fact that the vast majority of voters believe they already have the ID they’ll need.
Rebecca Oyler, of the Pennsylvania Department of State, was also questioned. Although the Department of State initially said that only 1% of eligible voters do not have photo ID from PennDOT, Ms. Oyler revealed that she had put this figure together herself in less than 24 hours- a figure that was later corrected to 9% after an internal audit. Ms. Oyler’s testimony also brought up the issue of “substantial conformity,” which is the term used to describe the similarity between a voter’s name on his or her ID and the name on state election rolls. Ms. Oyler ultimately stated that the issue of whether two names match closely enough (an example might include “Jim” vs “James”) will be left up to individual boards of elections and individual poll workers. Further, since the state failed to define the term “indigent voters” (a group exempt from providing photo ID), the fate of their right to vote is similarly left up to individual poll workers.
Read the full results of Prof. Barreto’s survey in his expert report.
Day 3: F 7/27 – 9am – 2:30pm
Day 3 of the trial featured testimony from eight witnesses. Once again, the most compelling stories came from the individuals who will be affected by the law. Through their testimony, three witnesses, each with very different circumstances, explained how the law will prevent them from voting in the upcoming election.
Taylor Floria, a 19-year-old registered voter, has all of the required paperwork needed to obtain an ID, but his autism makes it impossible for him to endure the hour long car ride to the nearest PennDOT location, let alone the chaos and noise that awaits him once he gets there. Taylor tried once to get an ID but had to leave before he obtained it; he hopes that his testimony will “explain how it’s difficult for me and for people like me.”
Another group affected by the voter ID requirement is the transgender community. Asher Schor has a PennDOT driver’s license, but the photo was taken before he began his gender transition. Since beginning to take testosterone, Schor’s facial structure has been altered and he has begun to grow facial hair, so his appearance is very different from the picture on his driver’s license. Schor,a legal assistant for a prisoner advocacy group, has already experienced trouble from a US marshall at a federal courthouse, leading him to worry that he and others like him could be denied the right to vote by local polling officials.
Witness Gloria Cuttino will also be unable to vote in the November election, because South Carolina, the state she was born in, has no record of her birth. Despite trying for more than a year to obtain her birth certificate, she has been unable to do so.
These three witness’ personal stories were bolstered by the testimony of government officials and a public interest attorney, which further revealed the problems with the law and its ability to be implemented.
Shannon Royer, Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth, admitted that the state’s public education campaign to make voters aware of the new ID law will begin its most intense effort after Labor Day. Homeless Advocacy Project attorney Michele Levy testified that it takes at least 10 to 12 weeks to obtain a birth certificate, so the campaign would come too late for many voters. Furthermore, 18% of voters, or 1.4 million people, do not know about the law, and even more incorrectly believe they have an acceptable form of ID, which any education campaign would most likely be unable to correct, especially in such a short time period. The Law Center’s Executive Director, Jennifer Clarke, also demonstrated that the Commonwealth’s current attempts to inform registered voters about the voter ID law are misleading. A letter informing voters about the law says that they “may also need further documentation, such as a birth certificate, a Social Security card, and two proofs of residency” to obtain ID, when in fact these are things they currently must have.
The final testimony of the day came from Kurt Meyers, Deputy Secretary of PennDOT, who noted that the recent rush to obtain photo IDs has put a strain on PennDOT’s employees. He also admitted that although voter IDs are supposed to be free, in the early weeks of the law confusion caused some voters to have to pay for IDs.
Day 4: M 7/30 – 9am – 5pm
Day 4 of the voter ID trial started with testimony from the commissioner for the Department of State’s Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation, Jonathan Marks. In his statement, Mr. Marks admitted that he does not really know the number of people who would be unable to vote as a result of the new law. Although the Department of State initially said that 89,000 voters do not currently have the ID they’ll need, they increased this number all the way to 759,000 after further research. However, when questioned, Mr. Marks revealed that this number does not include at least another 130,000 people whose PennDOT numbers could not be validated, or the 500,000 people who have expired IDs, making the number of people without proper ID roughly 1.5 million. And, by Mr. Marks’s own admission, no attempt has been made to reach out to the 630,000 voters with expired or unvalidated IDs.
The day continued with the testimonies of four more people who have faced difficulty obtaining IDs. The first was Tia Sutter, 61, a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney. Ms. Sutter does not drive, and the only form of photo ID she has available is a 1978 college ID card. Further, she cannot obtain a photo ID from PennDOT because the name on her social security card, Tia, does not match with the name on her birth certification, Christine. When she tried to obtain ID to comply with the law, she was told that she would need a court order to change the name on her Social Security card, which would cost $400 and take months to complete.
The next testimony came from Danny Rosa, 63, who served in the Air Force for 4 years until receiving an honorable discharge. Mr. Rosa’s birth certificate identifies him as Danny Guerra, which is his grandmother’s maiden name. However, he has always gone by the last name Rosa, which was the last name of the stepfather who raised him. Because Mr. Rosa has always been active in the voting process, he had already began the process of gathering paperwork and even made two trips to PennDOT, where he waited an hour and was told he could not get ID because the last names on his documents did not match.
The next two witnesses, both unable to travel to court, provided their testimonies through video depositions. The first was Joyce Block, 89. Ms. Block’s social security card and birth certificate are in her maiden name, Altman. She has voted since she was 21 years old, but never had any other form of identification since she did not drive. Ms. Block had her granddaughter take her to a PennDOT location when she heard of the new law. At PennDOT, she was told that because the last name on her social security card and birth certificate was not consistent with her current last name, they could not issue her an ID. Although Ms. Block had her marriage certificate – which is written in Hebrew- on hand to verify the name change, she was still told she still could not receive an ID because no one at that PennDOT location was able to read Hebrew. Ms. Block is politically active, so she called her state senator, and when she returned to the PennDOT office, she was able to get ID. Despite her success, Ms. Block decided to testify because she did not want others who are not as politically connected to be denied the right to vote.
Lastly, Bea Bookler, 94, testified about the difficulties she faces in obtaining identification to vote. Over the years, Ms. Bookler has lost her social security card, birth certificate, and marriage certificate. In addition, she cannot physically travel to a PennDOT location. Due to her physical condition, Ms. Bookler is only able to leave her Senior Living Center when her daughter takes her out to lunch nearby for special occasions, and to vote, as her polling place is next door.
The stories like these and others that we have heard over the past week illustrate what is really at stake at this case: the ability to vote for real people like Ms. Bookler, Ms. Block, Mr. Rosa, Ms. Sutter, and the over one million people in Pennsylvania like them.
Day 5: Tu 7/31 – 9am – 3pm
The fifth day of trial opened with testimony from Carol Aichele, Secretary of the Commonwealth. During her turn on the stand, Secretary Aichele expressed her unwavering belief that the voter ID law will facilitate the voting process rather than hinder it. She appeared uninformed of the potential negative impact of the law. Specifically, Secretary Aichele seemed unbothered by time and budget constraints concerning the state’s ability to inform voters of the new law before November, and unaware of the hardships many voters may face in getting to a PennDOT center. Although she admitted during testimony that the state does not have a documented plan to educate voters, she remains confident that voters will be informed, claiming that the state has repeatedly advised voters to get proper ID. She also didn’t have a specific response to concerns that some PennDOT centers open only once a week.
Perhaps most alarmingly, Secretary Aichele expressed confidence in the Commonwealth’s initial assessment that 99% of registered voters have adequate ID to vote – despite the fact that the State’s own most recent research has put that number as low as 91%, and an independent survey lower still at 84%. When presented with testimony from Department of State official Rebecca Oyler calling the first number most likely inaccurate, Secretary Aichele maintained that she simply “disagreed.”
The next witnesses who took the stand called Ms. Aichele’s confidence into serious question by joining the throng of previous witnesses to throw doubt on the state’s claims that voters and PennDOT technicians are being properly informed about the law, or that few voters will be affected by the new requirements.
Lisa Gray is a dedicated voter who suffers from a disability that makes it impossible for her to work or drive. Born overseas on a German military base, Ms. Gray would need a specially-issued birth certificate; the process to obtain it that would take months and cost at least $50. Even with the birth certificate, Ms. Gray does not know how she could find transportation to a PennDOT center. Ms. Gray wants the state to know that “other people with problems like me are being prevented from voting by clerical stumbling blocks.”
Ms. Rawley has been trying to help other senior citizens get clear information about the ID they need. She has made multiple phone calls and visits to both PennDOT and the Department of State – to no avail. She was last told that information was not available and would not be until late August. She testified on Tuesday that “things just keep changing.”
Mr. Jarrell has experienced chaos and confusion as well. Upon his visit to a PennDOT center in July, he found no posters and no brochures save for a few photocopied sheets stuck in a rack of brochures. When he did speak to an employee, he received incorrect information.
Mr. John Jordan of the PA NAACP laments that his office has spent more time answering calls about voter ID than administering actual voter registration efforts. Mr. Jordan testified to the confusion caused by the “constant changes to the rules,” and expressed doubt that voters can be educated before the November election.
While the voter ID law and the state’s numbers might not be clear, one thing is – this law is a real threat to the right to vote for many Pennsylvanians who deserve to have their voice heard.
Day 6: W 8/1 – 9am – 5pm
The sixth and final day of testimony began with Olivia Thorne, president of the League of Women Voters. The organization, which is a plaintiff in the case, has had to devote precious time and resources to educating citizens about the Voter ID law – resources they would otherwise be able to spend on important information and advocacy campaigns. The Commonwealth has also changed protocol on how to obtain an ID multiple times, forcing the League to reprint educational materials and causing even greater voter confusion. Thorne has seen firsthand the obstacles that lie in the way of potential voters. Although nursing homes can print acceptable IDs for their residents, none have committed to doing so, and a few have even refused. The situation is no easier for those who have to go to PennDOT to get their ID. Thorne visited a PennDOT office three times, finding no signage and little help from employees. When she inquired about how a friend without a birth certificate could go about getting an ID, a PennDOT worker responded “Tough luck, she won’t be able to vote”.
Deputy Commissioner Jorge Santana, who works with the City Commission, which oversees elections in Philadelphia, testified next. Santana testified that of the 8,000 poll workers in Philadelphia, only 20% attend the optional pre-election training, meaning that 80% of Philadelphia poll workers will walk into election day on November 6th untrained in the new, complex law. The Commission has also had trouble educating those who do not have IDs. The Commission requested the list of registered voters without IDs in April, but did not receive it until July, leaving them little time to get the word out. Like Thorne, Santana testified to the confusion the law is causing, as well as to the influx of calls and visits the Commission has received. The Commission has had to launch campaigns to educate voters about the law, without any budget for such efforts. If the law is not overturned, Santana is expecting a mess on Election Day.
Last to testify was Professor Lorraine Minnite, Associate Professor of Public Policy at Rutgers-Camden and author of The Myth of Voter Fraud. Minnite testified that “voter fraud in American elections is exceedingly rare” and most cases that do occur are accidental. When questioning Minnite, the Commonwealth’s lawyer Patrick Cawley used the argument that an ID is required to do many things and that voting should be one of them. However, his phrasing was very telling: “if buying beer requires a certain barrier to entry then shouldn’t voting have at least that same barrier as well?”
Voting, unlike buying beer, is a right, and voters should not be barred in any way from exercising it.
Closing arguments are August 2nd.
Day 7: Th 8/2 – 9am – 3pm
The final day of the trial featured closing arguments from both sides. Vic Walzcak, Legal Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, spoke on behalf of the petitioners. Mr. Walzcak summarized the information that had been presented in the case, which made it obvious that the voter ID law is simply unjust and unnecessary. Mr. Walzcak reminded the court that voter fraud – the original pretense for passing the law –does not exist. Even the Commonwealth has stipulated that they know of no cases of in-person voter fraud and do not expect this type of fraud to occur in November without the Voter ID law. The law is, in essence, a solution in search of a problem. The real harm, however, is that this “solution” stands to disenfranchise a huge number of Pennsylvanians. Even using the Commonwealth’s own estimations, the number of people who do not currently have approved ID is roughly one million, with senior citizens, students, minorities, and people living in poverty impacted most heavily. Even though the Commonwealth claims to have made it fairly easy to obtain ID to vote, not one witness for the Commonwealth could guarantee that everyone who currently lacks the proper ID will be able to vote on Election Day. Lastly, Mr. Walzcak pointed out that there will be chaos on Election Day because of the confusion around the law. Roughly 12%, or 1 million Pennsylvanians, are predicted to be unaware that they have an insufficient form of identification until they get to their polling place on November 6th, by which time, it will be too late.
In response, the Commonwealth argued that the majority of eligible voters in Pennsylvania already have proper forms of ID, and although some individuals may not, this is the price we have to pay for democracy. Further, the Commonwealth’s lawyers asserted that even though there has been no significant evidence of voter fraud, the possibility of it happening still exists. They claimed that the law is needed to protect democracy and modernize elections, and that it will enhance public confidence in the democratic process. Finally, the Commonwealth stated that no action they take to make getting IDs easier will satisfy the petitioners.
Judge Simpson will issue a decision the week of August 13th.