Witnesses: PennDot can't handle voter-ID demands

Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele testified that her agency was trying to make ID cards available to all registered voters.
Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele testified that her agency was trying to make ID cards available to all registered voters. (JOHN C. WHITEHEAD / Associated Press)
Posted: August 02, 2012

HARRISBURG - PennDot offices throughout the state seem ill-equipped to handle the expected demands of voters seeking state-issued identification cards, according to witnesses testifying Tuesday in Commonwealth Court.

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.

Lisa Gray of Chadds Ford said she was caught in a Catch-22 situation. She does not drive because of a psychological disability and therefore has no license - and she was born in Germany. To get her birth certificate from the U.S. government, she needs a photo ID.

Gray said she had exercised her right to vote for 35 years.

"I vote because it's important to me to make my voice heard," Gray testified. "I may now be prevented by clerical stumbling blocks."

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued the state to block the new law requiring that Pennsylvanians show photo identification at the polls. Backers of the law contend it is needed to prevent voter fraud; its challengers argue the law will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of legitimate voters who do not have easy access to identification.

"There is a burden associated with this law and a burden on a fundamental right is unconstitutional," said Marian Schneider, a lawyer with the Advancement Project, a civil-rights group.

Lawyers are seeking an injunction ahead of the Nov. 6 election when the law, passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, is to take effect.

Four other witnesses from across the state - all of whom already have PennDot issued licenses - went to driver's-license centers at the behest of voters'-rights groups seeking to determine the difficulty in obtaining IDs.

All reported roadblocks such as limited or no public transportation to PennDot offices; limited hours when authorized employees were available; and clerks who said there was a $13.50 charge for the IDs, which are to be issued free.

Madeline Rawley, a retired teacher from Doylestown, testified that constant revisions to the requirements for obtaining ID appear to be causing confusion even in PennDot offices.

She said one clerk told her about voter-ID requirements: "I can give you general information, but I can't guarantee it's accurate."

Janice Horn, retired librarian and board member of the League of Women Voters, testified that she went to a PennDot office in her home county of Clarion and found it staffed by a contract worker who said she could not answer any questions about voter IDs. The worker told Horn to come back on another day when a PennDot employee was in.

Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele testified that her agency was doing everything it could to address issues of access to IDs and was trying to make ID cards available to all registered voters.

She said that she had addressed groups across the state and reached out to other agencies in an effort to spread the word and that, soon, five million letters will go out to voters reminding them to have the proper IDs.

John Jordan, an official with the NAACP, said the law has brought widespread confusion among minority voters and has hampered his group's main mission: to register voters.

When asked whether he was confident that everyone would have an ID on Nov. 6, Jordan, whose group is a petitioner in the lawsuit, said, "Not confident at all."

Under questioning by Washington lawyer David Gersch, representing the plaintiffs, Aichele said she did not know how many voters would be affected and did not know what would happen if hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters showed up at the polls without proper ID.

"We planned on less," she said, "about 100,000."

Still, Aichele said, she did not believe the new law would cause delays at the polls.

"We are doing all we can to make sure voters have ID," she said.

Testimony continues Wednesday when witnesses include a representative of the League of Women Voters and Lorraine Minnite, a Rutgers University professor and expert on voter fraud. Closing arguments are set for Thursday.


Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.

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