Voter ID 'a disaster,' Phila. witness testifies

Posted: July 19, 2013

HARRISBURG - After a day and a half of debate over the raw data that describes Pennsylvania's body politic, the voter ID trial shifted to the realities of the man (and woman) on the street.

For hours, statisticians with multiple degrees and thick resum├ęs had analyzed the numbers that provide the foundation of the plaintiffs' claim that the 2012 law requiring photo identification at the polls disenfranchises voters.

But on Wednesday, the plaintiffs called Adam Bruckner, a familiar face in the Logan Square section of Philadelphia, to the witness stand. The 38-year-old, one could say, holds an advanced degree in the hard-luck life.

Bruckner runs PhillyRestart, a group that doles out small checks to the homeless and people living in drug-rehab facilities and halfway houses, to cover the cost of a PennDot nondriver ID ($13.50) or a birth certificate ($10) to those willing to wait, sometimes three hours or more, near 19th and Vine Streets.

He testified of how thrilled he was when he heard free IDs were being made available by the Department of State for voting purposes last fall. He promptly began sending his clients to PennDot.

They came back empty-handed, he said.

"It was a disaster," testified Bruckner, who estimates he has provided funding through donations for about 38,000 people to get IDs that help them get jobs, medical care, and housing since the organization began in 2002. "So many people came back, I stopped telling them about it."

Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for the state Office of General Counsel, speaking after Bruckner's testimony, said there was no way to tell what kinds of problems Bruckner's clients were facing at PennDot or if they were even requesting the voting-only ID that the state was offering free.

"Were people coming back because they couldn't get the Department of State ID or that they couldn't get an ID for other purposes?" Fredericksen said.

The plaintiffs, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and other civil-liberties groups along with several individuals, are seeking to overturn the law because they say it denies citizens, many of them elderly, disabled, and minorities, their constitutional right to vote. Gov. Corbett and other Republicans who supported the law say it prevents in-person voter fraud. The administration says the law meets state constitutional muster because it provides "liberal access" to state-approved photo ID at no cost to the voter.

Earlier Wednesday, the sides battled over a year-old report from Matt Barreto, a professor at the University of Washington, who concluded that more than a million registered Pennsylvania voters lacked the forms of ID that the law requires. The original judge in the case determined last year that Barreto's survey was not credible.

The plaintiffs brought in a statistics expert, David Marker, to analyze its methodology. Lawyers for the state were unsuccessful in trying to persuade Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley to exclude Marker's testimony.

Also testifying Wednesday was Jonathan Marks, the top elections official at the Department of State, who discussed various acceptable forms of ID and the process by which the state has tried to address barriers to getting them - such as by allowing nursing homes to issue IDs to residents.

Under questioning by Witold J. Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Marks acknowledged that the state has no idea how many nursing homes had issued IDs since that became an option last fall.

Another statistician, Bernard Siskin, testified Tuesday for the plaintiffs that he believed roughly a half-million voting-age Pennsylvania residents do not possess state-approved photo ID.


Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.

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