Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Voter ID Day 5: "There is no document."


Day five of argument in ACLU-PA's voter ID lawsuit began with testimony from Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, who expressed confidence in the new law, and concluded with a series of witnesses who called that confidence into question. Most testimony related to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's efforts (past, present, and future) to educate and accommodate the state's roughly 8 million eligible voters.

Aichele's demeanor was defiant under questioning from Arnold and Porter attorney David Gersh, rarely giving a direct answer to a question. Instead she questioned his wording - taking particular issue with the use of "a lot" as a quantifier - or used the time to explain some related area of the law, or the staff structure at the Pennsylvania Department of State. Above all, Aichele displayed resolute confidence in the Department of State's ability to work with PennDOT to educate and inform voters before the November election.

Aichele also remains confident in the Department of State's estimate that 99 percent of Pennsylvania's registered voters already possess valid PennDOT ID. This figure, circulated widely during the legislative debate process, has since been discredited by an independent survey (which estimated that same figure at roughly 84 percent) and by the Department of State's own research (which put the figure at approximately 91 percent). On July 16, Rebecca Oyler testified that she herself computed that figure, in less than 24 hours and with unanswered questions from PennDOT, and stated that she considers that figure incorrect. On the stand, Aichele said she "would disagree" with Oyler, and said the Department of State plans to serve roughly 100 thousand voters. In fact, with an estimated 1.3 million eligible voters disenfranchised (according to both the ACLU-PA's survey and to the Department of State's own recent calculations) Aichele said Pennsylvania has budgeted $1 million to provide free Voter IDs - enough for roughly 75,000 ID's.

With less than 100 days remaining before the election, Aichele's response to many questions was to plead ignorance. In fact, when Gersh pointed out that PennDOT offices in many Pennsylvania counties are open only once a week - leaving a mere 13 business days for voters in those counties to obtain ID - Aichele expressed ignorance to the amount of time remaining. Asked about the lack of a documented plan for the Department of State to educate voters, Aichele stated that the court did not have such a document because "there is no document." Asked about reports that PennDOT is requiring people to pay for IDs that are supposed to be free, Aichele said she has heard such reports, but has not verified them. She testified that while other staffers at the Department of State are coordinating with PennDOT, she herself is not working directly with the agency. She was unaware of PennDOT's predicted August 26 roll-out of the new Department of State ID - and when Gersh pointed out that a voter holding an expired driver's license is ineligible for a free ID, even if he or she is indigent, Aichele said it was the "first time she'd thought about that," and thanked Gersh for bringing it to her attention.

Secretary Aichele's definition of "a lot" was interesting. Early in Gersh's questioning, Aichele said that "a small percentage" of Pennsylvania's universities were in compliance with voter ID requirements - "fewer than we expected," in her words - but she pointedly refused to characterize this as "a lot" of colleges. Later in her testimony, she said that of the 750,000 voters who received letters to alert them that the state believed they lacked necessary ID, roughly 200 had written back to say they did have ID - a figure she characterized as "lots and lots."

Asked about federal funding for voter ID outreach, Aichele pointed out that the Help America Vote Act results in $5 million for Pennsylvania, which can be spent "to make sure every registered voter receives at least one piece of mail" alerting them to the new ID requirements. Asked how this funding would be spent if there were no voter ID law, she answered that it would fund voter registration and turnout efforts.

Despite all indications otherwise, Secretary Aichele testified that, based on her experience as Secretary of the Commonwealth, and her prior experience in county government, she does not believe the new voter ID requirements will lead to confusion or delays at the polls. To the contrary, she said, she believes it will help speed the process and avoid confusion. To illustrate this she cited her own experience, frequently needing to spell out her name for poll workers. By putting an ID in front of a poll worker, she said, there would be no confusion about the way a voter's name is spelled.


Related: Voter ID Day 5: Clerical Stumbling Blocks

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5 Comments:

Blogger Unknown said...

I'm a bit confused as to how to vote by absentee ballot under this law. Reading the Voter ID guide at the Dept. of State website it seems to indicate that you would need to send your drivers license or non-drivers license numbers with the application. The guide goes on to say that if you don't have one of these documents you will just need to give the last 4 numbers of your Social Security number. That seems too easy. Am I reading this correctly.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Trish said...

I live in Australia - prior to election day we receive a small card from the Electoral Office with Name/address that can be taken to the polling booth in case you cannot remember how to spell your name.

We also have elections on a Saturday (Why Tuesday??) and if the wait line is more than 15 minutes - the politicians hear about it. All poll workers are PAID and trained.

Cannot believe how some states want to stop their citizens voting - it seems some UN observers will soon be needed.

2:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, if you vote absentee you don't need a photo id. So how fair is that?

7:51 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Regarding absentee ballots: I'm not 100% confident I have the correct information. Yesterday Secretary Aichele testified that a voter can obtain an absentee ballot simply by writing their driver's license number or social security number on the form. There's no need to show photo ID.

That's the testimony of the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Is that what's written on the guidelines, or the way it will be enforced in reality? Your guess is as good as mine.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Oh, and Trish: It's been about fifteen years, I think, that the UN would be justified in sending observers to oversee USA elections.

2:06 PM  

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