Monday, July 30, 2012

Voter ID Trial Day 4: State really has no idea how many are without valid voter ID

The voter ID trial began its second week with a review of just how many voters would be barred from the ballot booth in November.

Jonathan Marks, commissioner for the Department of State's Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation, was the first to testify today. 

But Marks, who had previously served as Division Chief for the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE), admitted that he doesn't really know the number of people who could be kept from voting this fall.

Initially, the Department of State said only 89,000 voters would need a new ID for voting. But after comparing Department of Transportation numbers with the SURE database, officials said in June that the number was actually 759,000.

Now they're saying they don't really know how many people are being impacted.

Plaintiffs' attorney David Gersch of the Arnold & Porter law firm asked Marks whether the 759,000 number includes at least another 600,000 people identified in the comparison study with expired IDs, or who may have filed inaccurate information. Marks said it didn't. So, according to the state's own study, more than a million people could be impacted. 

To be more precise, 1.5 million.

Even though he couldn't provide a number, Marks said he doesn't think the number is that high. The reason he doesn't think so is because after his department sent letters to the 759,000 voters, many people called and wrote letters that they did indeed have the proper ID.

On redirect, Gersch asked him to identify how many people called and wrote letters. 
"It’s not going to fill up Beaver Stadium, probably a couple of hundred," Marks said.

As for the other more than 600,000 people, they have not yet been notified that there is a discrepancy between their voter registration and their state-issued identification. Marks said the department plans to send them letters at the same time they send letters to the rest of the public - sometime later this summer.

Earlier in the testimony, in a convoluted back-and-forth which I couldn't really follow, Marks described how the state would confirm the voter eligibility of a woman trying to get a state-issued photo ID whose voter registration was under her married name, let's say Sally Smith, but her social security card was under her maiden name, say Sally Johnson. Basically, the PennDOT technician would hand Sally Smith Johnson a 1-800-number for the Bureau of Elections, where someone would be in charge of finding out if Sally Smith is indeed who she says she is. 

But it was very unclear how that would happen exactly.

In concluding his direct, Gersch asked Marks if part of his mission is to make sure that every eligible voter is able to vote. Marks agreed that it was.

"So even if one eligible voter can't vote on Nov. 6, that would be a bad day?" Gersch asked.
"Yes," Marks said.
"And if a registered voter cannot vote because PennDOT doesn't get the word out, that would be a bad day?" Gersch asked.
"Yes," Marks said.
"And if the Department of State gets the word out but the word is sufficiently confusing, that would be a bad day?" Gersch asked.
"Yes," Marks said.
"And if a registered voter can't get a PennDOT ID in order to vote, that would be a bad day?" Gersch asked.
"Yes," Marks said.

So let's review.

The state cannot identify even a single instance in which a person voted improperly in Pennsylvania because they were able to impersonate someone else at the polling place. 

The state's own research shows that 1.5 million Pennsylvanians could be at risk of being unable to have their vote counted in the General Election because they lack the proper ID.

Nov. 6 could be a very bad day.

--Lauri Lebo, ACLU of Pennsylvania board member

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