Friday, July 27, 2012

Voter ID Trial Day 3: The Courage to Stand Up Against Voter ID

Voter ID plaintiff Asher Schor (center)

Day 3 of the voter ID trial today featured eight witnesses from diverse backgrounds and experiences, including a county official, two state officials, and a public interest attorney. While these witnesses provide important context and density to the case against voter ID, the most compelling stories continue to come from those witnesses in challenging circumstances. Today’s hearing included a woman whose birth state has no record of her birth, a teenager with autism, and a young transgender man who worries about the impact of voter ID on his community.

Taylor Floria and Asher Schor knew exactly what they were doing when they agreed to testify on behalf of the plaintiffs. In testimony, both young men made clear that they care about this issue because of the impact it will have on their respective communities.

Taylor is 19 and lives in Chester County. He just registered to vote and is excited to vote for the first time. Taylor also has autism. Before the voter ID law, he would be able to vote in November’s election. If the voter ID law is not overturned, he will lose the chance to cast his first ballot.

Unlike previous witnesses, Taylor has all of the documents he needs to get a non-driving ID- a birth certificate, a Social Security card, and proof of residency. But Taylor has difficulty with excessive stimulation. Riding in a vehicle also wears him out and gives him motion sickness due to a physical condition. The nearest PennDOT drivers license center is nearly an hour from his home. If the car ride doesn’t wear him down, Taylor then must deal with the disorder of the license center. His autism makes it difficult or just plain impossible to handle the noise, the lack of decorum, the lighting, and other stimulation at the center.

Taylor’s mother, Sandra Carroll, testified that Taylor would probably be mute by the time he got to the clerk. In fact, he tried once to get an ID but had to leave the center before he could get it.

So how did he get to Harrisburg and how was he able to testify in a courtroom? Marian Schneider of Advancement Project asked him this question in direct questioning. Taylor testified that he and his mother traveled to Harrisburg yesterday so that he could have a day and a night to recuperate from the drive. He also said that the order of the courtroom- the decorum in how people dress, the quiet, the order that stems from the judge’s presence- enabled him to testify. That kind of order and decorum does not exist in a PennDOT license center.

Taylor, who earns straight As at the cyber school and technical school he attends, told the court that he chose to testify because he wanted “to explain how it’s difficult for me and for people like me.” He added, “I hope to advocate for them.”

Asher Schor, meanwhile, has a driver’s license from PennDOT. The problem? Asher is transgender. His license photo shows his appearance before he started his gender transition, and the gender marker is female. Asher started testosterone treatments last November, which he testified has given him facial hair, altered his facial structure, and redistributed his body fat.

If the voter ID law is implemented, Asher worries that he and other transgender Pennsylvanians will lose the vote at the hands of a poll worker who won’t accept his ID. As a legal assistant for a prisoner advocacy group, Asher recently endured an experience with a U.S. marshall at the federal courthouse. The marshall became “shorter” with Asher when he presented his ID, refused to allow him to take in his laptop, and questioned him about his name.

Gloria Cuttino, one of our clients, testified between Taylor and Asher. Gloria does not have a PennDOT ID and has tried for more than a year to get one. South Carolina, Gloria’s birth state, has no record of her birth. According to testimony offered later by Michele Levy, an attorney with the Homeless Advocacy Project, South Carolina is one state that does not allow a third party, such as a relative or an attorney, to sign on behalf of a person without ID.

Gloria registered to vote in 2008, has voted in elections since then, and is eager to vote this year.

Today’s recap will be broken into two parts. Transcripts from each day’s proceedings are available at this link, as they become available.

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Blogger Lauri said...

Wow. Great post, Andy. These plaintiffs are amazing. Your account gave me chills.

7:23 PM  

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