Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Voter ID Day 6: Voter confusion about new law rampant

Today marked the sixth and final day of testimony in the voter ID trial. Only the most diehard observers and journalists were in attendance, although there will likely be a full house again tomorrow for closing arguments.

Kicking off today’s testimony was Olivia Thorne, president of the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Pennsylvania and a 35-year member of the organization. The LWV is an organizational plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Thorne testified that the LWV’s education activities around voter ID have diverted scarce resources and time the organization planned to use on other campaigns and advocacy work. The state’s frequent changes to the process for getting ID have also made it complicated to educate voters, as well as expensive for the League as they have had to reprint their materials (and will have to again) in order to keep up with the repeated changes and clarifications issued by the Dept. of State. More importantly, she said, these frequent changes have confused voters.

Thorne also talked about the LWV’s outreach to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Although these facilities have been empowered by the state to produce their own IDs using an ink jet printer on 8.5 x 11 paper, almost none so far have committed to doing so, and several have refused, according to Thorne.

The most shocking part of Thorne’s testimony was her experience at PennDOT as she tried to research how the agency is handling its directive to issue free IDs to those who need them for voting. She visited the Media (Delaware County) PennDOT office on three separate occasions over the past few months. In addition to a complete lack of signage, the PennDOT worker was less-than-helpful when Thorne explained she was seeking information for a friend without a birth certificate. The PennDOT worker’s response? “Tough luck, she won’t be able to vote.”

Next up was Deputy Commissioner Jorge Santana from Philadelphia. He works for the City Commission, which oversees elections in Philadelphia. He testified to the problems his office is facing in preparing for the election because of the voter ID law.

There are 8000 poll workers in Philadelphia. While poll workers do receive training prior to the election, attendance is not mandatory, and Santana estimates about 20% of workers usually attend the training. Even if a higher number of workers attend training this year in light of the new law, there will undoubtedly be thousands of poll workers in Philadelphia alone who have had no training on the new and complex law.

Santana also testified as to the many attempts his boss, Commissioner Stephanie Singer, made to obtain the list of registered voters without PennDOT ID. First requested in April, the list was not made available until almost July. The DOS has also not provided the office with any information about the new IDs the state has said it will be offering at the end of August.

Like Thorne before him, Santana testified to the confusion voters have about the new law. His office has been inundated with calls and visits from voters asking for information and sometimes for help obtaining necessary documents such as birth certificates for getting a PennDOT ID. Despite having no budget for this effort, his office has mounted an outreach campaign with community organizations to educate voters. After being asked, he testified that the DOS has not been educating voters in Philadelphia about the law. He said he has “no confidence” that every voter who needs an ID will have one for the election.

As for what he anticipates happening on Election Day if the law is not overturned, Santana said his office is “planning for a mess, to be frank.”

The final witness of the day was Professor Lorraine Minnite, associate professor of public policy at Rutgers-Camden. She is the author of several articles on voter fraud as well as a book, The Myth of Voter Fraud (Cornell University Press).

Opposing counsel objected to Prof. Minnite’s testimony, as the state has already stipulated to the fact there is no known voter fraud in Pennsylvania. He was overruled.

Minnite testified to her extensive research on voter fraud over the past 12 years that has led her to conclude that “voter fraud in American elections is exceedingly rare.” Most of the few instances she was able to corroborate were confused voters (such as the man who owned property in one state and lived in another and thought he was entitled to vote in both places) rather than intentional voter fraud. She also testified to the fact that while it might be possible to be registered in two states at once, a voter ID law would not safeguard against that.  Much of what she testified to can be found in her expert testimony.

The commonwealth’s lawyer, Patrick Cawley, tried to use the common argument that voter ID supporters like to use – “you need an ID to buy a beer.”  His phrasing of the question to Minnite, however, was telling: “...if beer requires a certain barrier to entry then voting should have at least that barrier as well?" Barrier, you say? An interesting choice of words coming from the commonwealth. 

When asked about voter ID laws as a way to “protect the integrity of an election,” Minnite responded, “You can’t have integrity of an election unless everyone who wants to vote gets their vote counted.”

Closing arguments start tomorrow, Aug. 2, at 10 am. ACLU-PA Legal Director Vic Walczak will be making the closing for the petitioners.

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Blogger Lauri said...

When asked about voter ID laws as a way to “protect the integrity of an election,” Minnite responded, “You can’t have integrity of an election unless everyone who wants to vote gets their vote counted.”

I love this.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Lauri said...

Who's blogging closing arguments?

8:21 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Lauri: Closing arguments will be blogged / tweeted by Mr. Reginald Shuford, our Executive Director.

8:24 PM  
Blogger Carol P said...

Wish I could be there.

8:16 AM  

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