HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Hundreds of demonstrators descended on Pennsylvania's Capitol on Tuesday to protest a tough new voter ID law, launching a daylong political drama that set the stage for a state court hearing on a lawsuit seeking to prevent the law from taking effect this year.

The protesters – civil-rights activists, union members and others – chanted, waved signs and cheered as speakers portrayed the mandatory photo ID requirement as part of a cynical effort by Republicans to suppress voters turnout and gain an advantage in a presidential election year.

"They know that, when people don't vote, they win. ... We're going to stop it and stand at the borders of Pennsylvania and say `everybody in America has a right to vote,'" said Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale.

Hilary O. Shelton, senior vice president for advocacy at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, noted that even supporters of the law – one of the toughest in the nation – cannot cite any cases of voter impersonation in Pennsylvania.

"It is a solution looking for a problem," Shelton told the crowd gathered on the Capitol steps around a 25-foot inflatable replica of the Liberty Bell.

Similar protests are scheduled Wednesday in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Allentown.

The rally came one day before the state Commonwealth Court is set to open a hearing in Harrisburg on a lawsuit seeking to block the law from taking effect on Nov. 6, Election Day.

Civil-rights groups representing the 10 Pennsylvania voters who are the plaintiffs contend that the law is unconstitutional and would disenfranchise many poor people, senior citizens and minorities, who are less than likely to have the required photo IDs.

Supporters say the law is simply an extra layer of protection against voter fraud, although the state attorney general's office joined the plaintiffs in signing a stipulation that says neither side is aware of any incidents of in-person fraud.

The law was passed earlier this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature with no Democratic votes and signed in March by GOP Gov. Tom Corbett.

Secretary of State Carol Aichele, the state's top elections official, sought to quietly schedule a post-rally news conference while the protest was in progress, but word leaked out and a leader of the rally announced it over the public-address system.

About two dozen protesters tried to attend the news conference in a Senate meeting room, only to be blocked by Capitol police. Instead, they chanted and sang outside the room, nearly drowning out Aichele at times as she answered reporters' questions.

Inside the room, Aichele listed steps that her department has taken to ease difficulties facing some voters who lack a Pennsylvania driver's license or one of several other forms of ID that are acceptable under the law. They include a special State Department photo ID that will be made available to voters who have trouble obtaining birth certificate copies.

She expressed confidence that such initiatives and an intensive voter-education effort will ensure that all eligible voters can get valid IDs. The plaintiffs in the court case estimate at least 1 million of the 8.3 million registered voters currently lack them.

Several Democratic legislators who took part in the rally and were permitted to sit in on Aichele's news conference, followed up with one of their own.

They criticized authorities for limiting public access to the news conference and called for the law to be postponed, if not repealed.

"This is a process that's clearly not ready for implementation" this year, said Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia. "There's still too many kinks in this process."

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  • Florida Eliminates Early Voting On Sundays

    Tensions run high in Florida, a critical battleground state that passed an election law last year with several contested provisions. One bans a decade-long practice of early voting on Sundays before the election -- a window when as <a href="http://www.postonpolitics.com/2012/03/black-dems-trying-to-change-sunday-pre-election-voting-restriction/" target="_hplink">many as 30 percent</a> of black voters have previously cast ballots after attending church in a "souls to the polls" movement. Republican lawmakers claim the provision is meant to reduce election fraud, but some black Democrats say the calculation is more sinister. "It's my feeling it was done deliberately, a premeditated design, to suppress the vote of African-Americans in this country because it's playing out all over the nation in every state. It was intentional," Florida Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) said.

  • Photo ID Firestorm Rocks South Carolina

    The Justice Department <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/23/south-carolina-voter-id-law_n_1168162.html" target="_hplink">dealt a blow </a>to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, arguing that it discriminated along racial lines. Haley's administration fired back <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/07/south-carolina-voter-id-law-lawsuit-justice-department_n_1260369.html" target="_hplink">with a lawsuit</a> that is expected to be decided in September. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said earlier this year that Republicans hope to tip the outcome of the presidential election by lowering voter turnout by 1 percent in each of nine states that have passed voter ID laws, the <a href="http://westashley.patch.com/articles/democrats-combat-voter-id-law-by-organizing#video-9786253" target="_hplink">West Ashley Patch reports</a>. "I know nothing has changed yet," he said. "But I just do not trust the judiciary that we're operating under."

  • Disenfranchised Grandmother Sues Pennsylvania

    Under Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, voters must show a photo ID issued by the state or federal government. The state-issued IDs are free, but getting one requires a birth certificate, which costs $10 in Pennsylvania. Not everyone is having an easy time navigating the new system. Earlier this month, Viviette Applewhite, 93, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/02/pennsylvania-voter-id-law-viviette-applewhite_n_1472192.html" target="_hplink">filed a lawsuit </a>with the ACLU and NAACP challenging the law. Applewhite, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, does not have a driver's license, and the state cannot find her birth certificate. She is afraid that this year will be the first since 1960 that she will be unable to vote. Applewhite's dilemma is not uncommon. Some <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/montco_memo/142671935.html" target="_hplink">700,000 Pennsylvanians</a> lack photo ID and half of them are seniors. According to <a href="http://www.brennancenter.org/page/-/d/download_file_39242.pdf" target="_hplink">the Brennan Center</a>, 25 percent of voting-age black citizens have no government-issued photo ID, compared to 8 percent of white citizens.

  • Kansas Moves To Accelerate Proof Of Citizenship Law

    The Kansas House <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/voter-id-law-kansas-proof-of-citizenship-2012_n_1500109.html" target="_hplink">voted earlier this year</a> to move up the date a proof of citizenship law goes into effect to June 15, 2012, so it will limit who can vote in the presidential election. HuffPost's John Celock <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/voter-id-law-kansas-proof-of-citizenship-2012_n_1500109.html" target="_hplink">reports</a>: <blockquote>Rep. Ann Mah (D-Topeka) said the entire idea of proof of citizenship to vote would fail in court due to it being discriminatory against married women who change their names. Mah said that women who change their name need to provide proof of marriage and citizenship and an affidavit regarding the name change.<br> Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) took issue with Mah's claims of court challenges. "I get frustrated that everyone who does not like policy says we'll end up in court," he said.</blockquote> Only 48 percent of voting-age women with access to their birth certificates have a birth certificate with a current legal name, which means that as many as 32 million American women do not have proof of citizenship with their current legal name, <a href="http://www.brennancenter.org/page/-/d/download_file_39242.pdf" target="_hplink">according to the Brennan Center</a>. The bill to change the start date <a href="http://salinapost.com/2012/05/10/kobach-concedes-kansas-voter-citizenship-plan-dead/" target="_hplink">eventually failed</a>, but will still go into effect next year.

  • Wisconsin Law Continues To Disenfranchise Voters After Suspension

    Last year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/25/wisconsin-voter-id-law-scott-walker_n_867090.html" target="_hplink">signed a voter ID bill into law</a>, calling it a "common sense reform" that would "go a long way to protecting the integrity of elections in Wisconsin." As Walker's June 5 recall election approached, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/wisconsin-voters-id-photo-suspension_n_1401476.html" target="_hplink">two judges suspended it on the basis that it is unconstitutional</a>. Still, poll workers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/wisconsin-voters-id-photo-suspension_n_1401476.html" target="_hplink">reportedly asked some voters to show photo ID</a> during Wisconsin's April 2 primary, and one woman said that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/wisconsin-voter-id-polls_n_1403864.html" target="_hplink">she and her 87-year-old mother were turned away at the polls </a>because they lacked current photo IDs -- even though they were registered to vote. "We were listed on their friggin' poll list and yet we had our names highlighted," the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/wisconsin-voter-id-polls_n_1403864.html" target="_hplink">told the <em>Milwaukee Journal Sentinel</em></a>.