Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Voter ID Trial Day 7: Real Voters, Real Barriers

by Sara Mullen, Associate Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Attorneys for the plaintiffs concluded their case today with video depositions of three elderly long-time voters, two of whom do not have valid ID and face significant challenges to getting to PennDOT to obtain one, and a third who was forced to make three separate trips (each 2 hours round-trip) before finally securing a Dept. of State (DOS) for-voting-only ID. The videos paint a clear picture of the hurdles many senior voters face when trying to obtain an ID.

The first video was of Patricia Norton, a great-grandmother of five who lives in Berks County. Because she has pins and rods in her back, she uses a wheelchair or a walker to get around and is in pain most of the time. She spends most of her time lying down on the couch or in bed, as sitting is excruciating for her. She rarely leaves home except for doctor’s appointments, although she does vote in person every election at her polling place on the corner near her house.

A regular voter who believes “voting should be important to everyone” because “we all have a stake in what’s going on,” Ms. Norton attempted to get a PennDOT ID last fall after learning about the voter ID law.  Friends took her to PennDOT driver’s license center in Shillington – a 45 minute trip by car. After the painful ride, Ms. Norton was informed by the PennDOT employee on duty (whom Ms. Norton described as “not a happy helper”) that she would have to pay $13.50, although she correctly told the clerk that the ID was supposed to be free. Ms. Norton was willing to pay to get the ID anyway, but to her dismay, PennDOT does not take cash – only checks or money orders.  Discouraged and in pain, Ms. Norton returned home without the ID.  

Ms. Norton criticized the voter ID educational ads on TV, saying they just “tell me that I need to get an ID to vote,” but they don’t “tell me how to do it or where to go.” (Ms. Norton’s video testimony is available online.)

The second video testimony came from Nadine Marsh, one of the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Ms. Marsh, an elderly resident of Hanover Township in Beaver County who has never had a driver’s license, described how her granddaughter repeatedly tried to contact the Dept. of State to make sure Ms. Marsh had the correct documents for obtaining an ID. After multiple attempts, the DOS finally responded.  Ms. Marsh and her daughter took the hour-long trip, only to be told that while the PennDOT driver’s license center was indeed open, it does not produce photo IDs on Mondays. 

The pair made a second attempt, but the PennDOT employees on duty had never heard of the Dept. of State (DOS) ID for voting and said they would have to contact Harrisburg and would be in touch. After spending an hour and a half at PennDOT plus two hours in the car, Ms. Marsh once again returned home empty-handed.  On October 2, her third try, she finally succeeded in obtaining her DOS for-voting-only ID. (Ms. Marsh’s video testimony is available online.)

The final voter video featured Catherine Howell, a great-grandmother and resident of Morrisville (Bucks County) who cast her first vote for Harry Truman. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease four years ago and now mostly gets around using a scooter or a wheelchair. Her driver’s license expired last January. Ms. Howell’s polling place is only two blocks away at the local library. Like several other witnesses, Ms. Howell said the poll workers did not say anything about the voter ID law on Election Day. She had heard about the law, but didn’t know where to go to obtain an ID. She is unable to take the public bus to Bensalem and her children, who work full time, are often unable to drive her places. (Ms. Howell's video testimony is available online.)

Other witnesses today included Laverne Collins, director of the Bureau of Public Transportation, who testified about the Share Ride program, and Susan Carty, the president of the state League of Women Voters, one of the organizational plaintiffs in the case. Ms. Carty testified about “tremendous amount of confusion” about the voter ID law and the calls the League received about it.

The judge announced that there will be no court on Friday, July 26, or Monday, July 29.


The commonwealth begins putting on its case tomorrow. Their first witnesses are Kelly O’Donnell of the Department of Aging and Kurt Myers from PennDOT.

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