HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Lawyers hoping to
persuade a judge to order a halt to a new Pennsylvania law that requires
voters to show photo identification at the polls are bringing people to
court today to testify about hurdles they have encountered trying to
get a valid ID.
The testimony in the hastily
arranged hearing is expected to last much of the day. After that, all
eyes will be on Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, who hinted
after the hearing's first day this week that an injunction is possible.
Simpson gave no indication what an injunction might say or whether it
would prevent the entire law from taking effect for the Nov. 6 election,
as the law's opponents are seeking.
hearing in front of Simpson is the latest chapter in a legal challenge
to the 6-month-old law that has sparked a divisive debate over voting
rights and has become a partisan lightning rod in the contest between
Democratic President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt
Romney for Pennsylvania's prized 20 electoral votes.
is under orders from the state Supreme Court to halt the law by next
Tuesday -- just five weeks before the election -- if he finds the state
has not met the law's promise of providing free and easy access to a
photo ID or if he believes it will prevent any registered voters from
casting a ballot.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs
say registered voters continue to be turned away from state driver
licensing centers without a photo ID. They cite burdensome and
complicated requirements that ill-informed clerks at the license centers
have handled poorly.
State officials say they
believe the number of people who need an ID to vote is small -- the
state had issued less than 11,000 free IDs as of Monday -- and they
contend that an 11th-hour overhaul in the requirements for someone to
get a voting-only photo ID should comply with the Supreme Court's
But opponents of the law say the
Legislature intended that photo ID cards be freely available in March,
when the law passed, not with just a few weeks left before the election.
In addition, they contend that many people still do not know about the
law and say that the state's performance up until now ensures that some
people will be prevented from exercising their right to vote,
particularly college students, the poor, minorities, the elderly and the
In the meantime, the state has
pressed ahead, sending postcards about the law to registered voters,
airing TV and radio commercials and posting ads on billboards and mass
Simpson initially denied the
request for a preliminary injunction in August, saying the plaintiffs
did not show that "disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable." But
after an appeal, the Supreme Court directed him to use a much tougher
standard for tolerating voter disenfranchisement.
new law is among the toughest in the nation. The prior law required
identification only for people voting in a polling place for the first
time and it allowed non-photo documents such as utility bills or bank
statements. The new law requires each voter to show a particular form of
photo ID, such as a driver's license, passport, active duty military
identification, nursing home ID or college student ID.