Commonwealth promises that this time they really, really mean it when they say every voter will be able to get ID
Today’s hearing was déjà vu all over again, as the saying goes. Once again the Commonwealth produced a last-minute new ID procedure right before trial – this time literally the night before. And once again the Commonwealth asked the court to rely solely on its assurances that the new IDs would ensure that all eligible voters will get to vote in November.
The biggest news of the trial (also announced in a press release from the Dept. of State) was the revelation that the Dept. of State has revised the requirements needed to get a Dept. of State (DOS) ID “for voting only.” They have eliminated the requirement that voters must first attempt to obtain a regular secure PennDOT ID before attempting to get the DOS ID; the two proofs of residency; and the gender designation. Individuals who do not show up in the SURE database as a registered voter will still get their ID cards made and will be asked to fill out a voter registration form. The ID card and the voter registration form will then be sent to the Dept. of State, which will send the voter ID card to the individual once his or her registration has been completed.
The first witness of the day was Kurt Myers, Deputy Secretary of PennDOT, who testified to the changes in the DOS ID procedures and said that that changes were made in response to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling that the legislature intended that there be “liberal access” to state-issued ID cards.
Myers noted that “either last night or first thing this morning” all 71 PennDOT Driver’s License Centers were notified of the new rules. He testified that this was such a “minor change” that PennDOT customer service representatives did not need training – merely to be informed of the change.
Upon questioning, he also acknowledged the PennDOT previously had a mobile unit from the mid-1990s until 2008. He said few people utilized the service and there were security issues. When petitioner’s attorney David Gersch pointed out that other states with ID laws have managed to provide secure mobile units, Myers responded that certain states “have chosen to take that risk” but Pennsylvania has not.
According to Myers, only 21 individuals have asked for refunds for being erroneously charged for their ID. He stated that it was a “shared responsibility” and that voters should “come to the centers well-prepared” in order to make sure they were not mistakenly charged for PennDOT IDs that should be free (as required by the voter ID law).
Following the lunch break Shannon Royer, Deputy Secretary of State, took the stand. He described the state’s $5 million “Show It” education campaign about the voter ID law, including 6 million postcards, TV and radio ads, and ads in college and ethnic newspapers. Royer stated firmly that “every voter will know about this law by Election Day.”
The last person to take the stand today was Jonathan Marks, Commissioner for the Department of State’s Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation. He described the two-tiered process the DOS has for checking on the registration of people who apply for the DOS ID. For those who can’t easily be verified, “tier 2” workers have the “luxury of time” and are able to track down reasons why voters are not showing up as registered, such typos or non-matching names. He said that to date 113 individuals had been initially rejected for the DOS ID. In 43 of those the DOS had resolved the initial exception. He also testified that of the roughly 760,000 letters sent out by the DOS this summer to notify voters they were on the “no-match” list of voters without valid PennDOT ID, around 145,000 were returned by the post office as undeliverable.
ACLU Legal Director Vic Walczak then read into the record the declaration of Nadine Marsh, an 84-year-old Beaver County resident and one of the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit. A Pennsylvania native, Ms. Marsh has never had a birth certificate and had a letter of rejection from PA’s Dept. of Vital Records indicating they could not find a birth record for her.
Ms. Marsh’s granddaughter emailed the Dept. of State helpline three times to ask what documentation her grandmother would need to obtain the DOS ID for voting, since Ms. Marsh lives with her daughter and has no bills in her name. After finally receiving a reply, Ms. Marsh and her granddaughter traveled the 20 miles to the nearest PennDOT License Center. Unfortunately the center was not producing IDs the day they went. The next day they again took the 20 mile trip, only to be told after spending over an hour at PennDOT that PennDOT needed to “process” her request and that she would have to come back a third time after receiving a letter from “Harrisburg.”
As of yesterday, Ms. Marsh had not received a letter, although the state stated that one was sent out recently.
As the long day of testimony came to a close, Judge Simpson perked up the crowd by announcing that he had “a responsibility to consider tailoring an injunction” and asked that both sides consider what a tailored injunction might look like and be ready to provide argument on the issue on Thursday.
The hearing will resume on Thursday, September 27, after a day off for Yom Kippur. The petitioners will be presenting testimony from a dozen or so individuals who experienced problems at PennDOT with the initial version of the DOS ID.