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The Boston Globe

Politics

Stringent Pa. voter ID law back in court

Suit saysmany won’t get topolls

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A judge began hearing evidence Monday on the constitutionality of a state voting law that requires photo IDs to be presented at polling places statewide.

Michael Rubin, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in his opening statement that the requirement is an undue burden on voters.

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Pennsylvania has about 9,300 polling places but just 71 Department of Transportation centers that issue licenses and alternative ID cards, he said.

Rubin said the law can have only one result, “thousands of voters losing their right to vote.”

The trial is being held in state court. Judge Bernard Bigley has set aside nine days for testimony.

The 2012 law would be one of the strictest in the nation if upheld, but it has never been enforced. It was approved without any Democratic votes by the Legislature’s Republican majority and signed by Governor Tom Corbett, also a Republican.

A lawsuit was filed to block the law, but a state judge decided in 2012 not to issue an injunction. However, the state Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court for reconsideration. A ruling is expected in August.

Critics deride the law as a cynical GOP effort to discourage young adults, minorities, the elderly, the poor, and the disabled from going to the polls. Republicans said most Pennsylvanians have driver’s licenses and say the law would discourage voter fraud.

Acceptable photo IDs include licenses and state-issued voter ID cards with expiration dates. Other types of photo IDs, such as student and veteran identification cards, are not acceptable. A key question in the trial will be whether licenses and state identification cards are easily available.

As many as 410,000 people, or 5 percent of Pennsylvania’s eligible electorate, might be barred from voting under the law, according to the ACLU, one of several groups asking the court to overturn it.

In August, the secretary of state began offering a new card for voting for those unable to obtain a state-issued ID. The state had issued 16,754 of those free IDs as of June 7, the ACLU said last month in court papers.

Since the November election, the state has “effectively stopped all proactive efforts to get IDs to voters and the issuance of voter IDs has dropped to about 100 per month,” lawyers for the ACLU said.

State officials have said those numbers are misleading because they represent only cards issued by the Transportation Department and the secretary of state’s office.

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