During the trial challenging Pennsylvania's voter ID law, Secretary of Commonwealth Carol Aichele encapsulated its many problems as she admitted: "I don't know what the law says."
When even the state's top official in charge of implementing the law couldn't muster up a passable defense of its details, it seemed as if it would have to be struck down. But despite evidence that the law - which demands that citizens present strict, state-issued photo identification before voting - disenfranchises many voters, it was upheld.
This decision strikes a blow to Americans who want a free and fair election in November, in which all eligible citizens have an equal opportunity to vote. Attorneys from Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, and the Washington, D.C. law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP are taking immediate steps to appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But let's review some of the evidence that surfaced during the trial.
Right off the bat, the Commonwealth admitted that it has no voter problem. Officials stipulated that they could not point to a single documented case of in-person voter fraud, the only kind addressed by the law, and did not believe that it's likely to occur in November.
In sharp contrast to the zero incidents of voter fraud, our attorneys provided evidence that the number of Pennsylvanians without government-issued photo ID is roughly one million. Even the Commonwealth estimated that about 760,000 Pennsylvanians lack this form of ID, and in Philadelphia, 18% of voters - nearly one in five - don't have it. The citizens most likely to be disenfranchised on account of it are disproportionately veterans, seniors and people of color.
Our attorneys also showed the difficulties in obtaining the required ID. In order to get it, citizens have to first provide underlying forms of documentation, such as a certified birth certificate or a Social Security card. This presents a double burden for citizens born in Puerto Rico because the Puerto Rican government invalidated all birth certificates issued before 2010. These citizens must renew their birth certificates in Puerto Rico, costing extra time and money to practice their most basic legal right.
Approximately half of Pennsylvania's counties have no photo ID center, or have a center that is only open one to two days per week. And the Commonwealth admitted to having no plan in place for issuing anywhere close to 760,000 photo ID cards to cover voters who need one - or close to even 10,000 cards.
Furthermore, the Commonwealth has not even adequately informed the public. Independent survey research showed that 34 percent of registered Pennsylvania voters were unaware of the voter ID law. Another 12 percent of registered voters believed that they had a valid voter ID, but they didn't.
With all these holes in Pennsylvania's voter ID law, exposing it as illogical and disenfranchising, perhaps one can understand Aichele's "I don't know" evasions. But this law simply cannot stand, and we will take our case straight to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Ensuring that all Pennsylvania citizens can participate in the electoral process not only concerns voters in the state; it is critical to pushing back against voter suppression nationwide and upholding the basic fabric of our democracy.
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