Pennsylvania's pending voter-identification law _ one of the strictest in the nation _ would turn the right to vote into a privilege and disenfranchise a large number of voters, an attorney for the plaintiffs said as a trial on a constitutional challenge got underway Monday.
The lawyer, Michael Rubin, charged that the Republican majority in the Legislature and GOP Gov. Tom Corbett rebuffed suggested changes to accommodate the special needs of certain groups, such as older people with limited mobility, in obtaining a photo ID that the law requires all voters to show at the polls before they may cast ballots.
Faced with a choice, "almost invariably ... they chose to make it harder,'' Rubin, a Washington attorney who is a member of the plaintiffs' legal team, told Judge Bernard McGinley.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Timothy Keating argued the plaintiffs, who include the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, the NAACP and Philadelphia's Homeless Advocacy Project, lack the evidence to overturn the law.
In Pennsylvania, a law approved by the Legislature is presumed to be constitutional unless evidence shows that it ``clearly, palpably and plainly violates the constitution'' and the evidence in this case falls short, Keating maintained.
Keating said special provisions have been made to help seniors, veterans and college students obtain acceptable IDs. A special, free ID card for voters who lack a state driver's license or ID card issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation or other acceptable ID also is available through the Pennsylvania Department of State.
The law stirred a bitterly partisan debate during last year's presidential campaign, with critics calling it a cynical attempt by Republicans to discourage voting by groups that tend to vote Democratic. Republicans defended the law as a safeguard against voter fraud, although the state officials have acknowledged they know of no cases of voter impersonation.
Although the law was signed 16 months ago, the court blocked enforcement in the 2012 presidential election, when it was originally to be put into effect, and during the municipal and judicial primaries in May.
The court case turns on whether the law can be implemented in a way that ensures that every voter who needs a photo ID can get one.
Rubin said potentially hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters still lack proper IDs and suggested that relying on PennDOT to issue most of the IDs, including the special state card, may be part of the reason.