Memos: Pa. officials were wary of voter-ID rules

Posted: July 24, 2013

HARRISBURG - State agency officials raised concerns that strict new voter-identification requirements would disenfranchise voters, according to documents presented Monday in Commonwealth Court.

Plaintiffs' lawyers produced several memos and other documents that showed state officials expressed reservations that legislation to limit the kinds of acceptable IDs for voting might prevent some groups, such as the elderly and disabled, from voting.

Officials with the Department of Aging and the Department of State, which oversees elections, suggested broad options - such as granting all voters over 65 the right to absentee ballots - as a "good solution to ensure that no qualified elector is disenfranchised because of illness [or] disability" that prevented him or her from obtaining proof of identity.

But the former policy director for the Department of State, Rebecca Oyler, said that although that provision was not included in the final legislation, other accommodations were made for elderly and disabled voters.

Michael Rubin, an ACLU lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said as the trial over Pennsylvania's controversial voter-ID law began last week that documents written by Oyler would prove pivotal because they illustrate that the state repeatedly "chose the more restrictive option" even as officials considered less onerous alternatives.

Oyler defended the final version of the legislation, saying it provides voters with more options, such as using school IDs with expiration dates and allowing nursing homes to issue IDs.

"Anybody who wants an ID can get an ID; they were made broadly available," she said.

Under questioning by Rubin, Oyler said the state had not conducted research to determine how many nursing homes had issued IDs since the law took effect.

Rubin noted the provision does not mandate that nursing homes issue IDs and would have no effect on senior citizens who do not live in a facility that issues IDs.

The ACLU and other plaintiffs, such as the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, say the law is unconstitutional because it disenfranchises broad swaths of the voting public, among them the elderly, minorities, the disabled, and the poor.

The law, one of the strictest in the nation, has yet to be enforced during an election pending the constitutional challenge.


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

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