According reports from The Associated Press, the Pennsylvania voter identification case that is being challenged in Commonwealth Court is on a four-day recess for the weekend. Week two of the trial concluded with a debate between which expert witness provided accurate analysis of a statistical report of disadvantaged voters. On Thursday, July 25th which was day nine of the trial, state-hired statistician witness William Wecker attested that Bernard Siskin, who is the statistician for the plaintiffs, gave misleading testimony about the number of voters affected by the law in the November 2012 election. Wecker, who was given Siskin’s report to review, testified in Commonwealth Court on Thursday that he believes that Siskin inflated the numbers as he did not take into account voters who were deceased, relocated to another state, or take into account individuals who lost their right to vote because they have a felony on their record. Wecker further criticized the methodology used for the report stating that Siskin failed to consider the number of voters who have approved photo identification such as military IDs, state university IDs and ones issued by state-owned senior assisted living centers.
During the first week of the trial, Siskin testified that because of the confusion surrounding the new voter ID law and what was considered acceptable photo identification that hundreds of thousands of voters may not be able to vote at the next general election. The plaintiff’s lawyers hit Wecker on cross-examination alleging that the state’s expert witness incorrectly assessed Siskin’s report and that only a small number of disenfranchised voters may have been overestimated. Siskin’s report is crucial to the plaintiff’s case in proving that Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law excludes a substantial number of voters who would otherwise be permitted to exercise their right to vote as long as they are not required to show photo ID. State legal team attorney D. Alicia Hickok countered the claims by stating that the Department of State and PennDOT’s have the duty to provide information along with places for voters to obtain identification. Hickok said the State’s obligation ends at that point, and the voter is responsible for actually going out to a photo center to acquire their ID or to take the steps needed to request exemption.
Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law which was passed into law in March 2012 has yet to be implemented. Instead the law is on hold while the case is resolved in trial court. Although the State says that the case is not about the constitutionality of the law, the plaintiff’s, who include the NAACP, the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters and Philadelphia’s Homeless Advocacy Project, allege that the requiring a photo ID to vote unfairly targets people of color, older adults, people who are disabled, and others by placing an undue burden upon them. In addition, it was also alleged that individuals of a protected class often vote Democratic, and that the law which was pushed by a Republican-led Congress and signed by Governor Corbett, also a Republican, is an underhanded way to gain more control of the votes at the next election. The plaintiffs claim that the voters who would be disenfranchised by the law may not know how to obtain an approved photo ID, know that they may qualify for an exception or have the means to travel to one of the state-centers to obtain identification. Kelly O’Donnell from the Department of Aging revealed under testimony that faulty information released from their office added to the confusion that many senior citizens felt after the law passed. Individuals at senior centers were advised that they could get a photo ID at any PennDOT driver’s license center in the state when in reality there are a limited number of centers that provide picture IDs. To complicate matters, of the 500 voters who were not eligible for PennDOT issued state photo IDs, at least 100 people were told to go to the Department of State for a voter ID card. Those 100 eligible voters did not receive their IDs in time for the 2012 election, and not knowing that the photo ID was on hold pending the challenge in court, they did not vote at the last general election.
The trial, which began on Monday, July 15th, was originally expected to run seven to ten days and will enter its third week of testimony when court resumes on Tuesday, July 30th. Commonwealth Judge Bernard McGinley, who is presiding over the trial, expressed his aggravation with the pace and slow movement. On Wednesday, July 24th, McGinley took a brief recess with attorneys from both sides to see if a compromise could be reached. The plaintiffs refused to rest their case until they had the opportunity to review discover more about the challenges with issuing photo identification. No matter which side wins in this case, it is anticipated that there will be an appeal to the State Supreme Court. Regardless the outcome at Commonwealth Court, an appeal means the law will not be enforced or could be dismissed altogether. By the fall the court will rule on the temporary injunction which leaves plenty of time for the next battle at the Supreme Court and a decision prior to the general election in November 2014 which is when voters pick the next Pennsylvania governor, half of the state House and all state Senators.