Update, August 15, 2012: Judge Robert Simpson has refused to grant an injunction to halt implementation of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law. Opponents will appeal the decision. We’ll have more on the ruling soon, but in the mean time, here are Ari Berman’s takeaways from the trial.
The two-week trial challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law ended today. Here’s what we learned from the proceedings. Suffice to say, Pennsylvania Republicans didn’t come out looking very good.
1. A lot of voters don’t have valid voter ID. University of Washington political scientist Matt Barreto, a witness for the plaintiffs (the suit was brought by the ACLU, the Advancement Project and other voting rights groups), found more than 1 million registered voters in Pennsylvania—12.8 percent of the electorate—don’t have sufficient voter ID. Moreover,379,000 registered voters don’t have the underlying documents, such as a birth certificate, needed to obtain the right ID; 174,000 of them voted in 2008.
2. The state doesn’t know its own law very well. During the debate over the law in the state legislature, Secretary of the Commonwealth Carole Aichele repeatedly stated that 99 percent of Pennsylvania voters had the right ID. A subsequent study by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation found that 758,000 registered voters, 9.2 percent of the electorate, lacked a state-issued PennDot ID. During the trial, Pennsylvania State Department official Rebecca Oyler testified that she calculated the “99 percent have ID” figure in less than twenty-four hours while lacking sufficient data from the department of transportation. When pressed on the specifics of the law and the number of people who lack voter ID, Aichele responded: “I don’t know what the law says.”
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett was similarly clueless when asked what forms of ID besides state-issued ID are valid for voting purposes. “The other forms of ID can be student ID.” Corbett said. “We’ve been working with the nursing homes to get people new ID. It can be military ID. There’s two or three other forms—right now, off the top of my head, I don’t have it here in front of me.”
3. The state is unprepared to implement the law. Pennsylvania has allocated funds for only 75,000 “free” voter ID cards, even though the department of transportation found that ten times as many voters may lack valid ID. Nor is the state equipped to handle all of the people who will need to get ID. “There were 71 PennDot offices, but 13 of them were only open one day a week,” Slate’s Dave Weigel noted. “Nine Pennsylvania counties have no PennDot office at all.” Added the Philadelphia Inquirer: “In recent visits to the Department of Transportation’s offices, the witnesses said, they found long lines, short hours, and misinformed clerks, which made obtaining voter identification cumbersome, and in some cases impossible, for those who don’t have supporting documentation.”