JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
Now to Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania's controversial voter ID law will be back in state court this week after more than a year of legal limbo. The measure requires voters to show certain state-issued photo ID before casting ballots.
From member station WITF in Harrisburg, Mary Wilson reports that a state judge will decide whether the law violates the Pennsylvania constitution.
MARY WILSON, BYLINE: Voter ID might be Pennsylvania's most controversial law, and it still hasn't been enforced. Last week, civil rights advocates like the NAACP's John Jordan railed against the photo ID requirement.
JOHN JORDAN: It's a ploy to take votes away from the people who deserve them: veterans, seniors, students, people with disabilities, people of color and hard-working folk.
WILSON: It's the same disagreement that has caused conservative lawmakers and voting rights activists to lock picket signs at state capitols across the country. Supporters say photo ID is a commonsense remedy for voter fraud to keep people from impersonating someone else and casting a fraudulent ballot. Opponents say it's an attempt to disenfranchise minorities and Democratic-leaning groups less likely to have ID.
A legal challenge was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union with lead plaintiff 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite. She says she's a longtime voter, born in Philadelphia, but she wouldn't be able to get the ID she would need under new rules.
VIVIETTE APPLEWHITE: I've never heard anything like it before.
WILSON: Here she is in a video take by the ACLU. Applewhite says she doesn't have a birth certificate and other key identifying documents she would need to get state ID, like a non-driving license.
(SOUNDBITE OF ACLU VIDEO)
APPLEWHITE: And I just think it's terrible because there's so many people that don't have ID and they're not going to be able to vote. And that's taking - I think that's taking their privilege away from them, and I don't think it's right.
WILSON: In court, lawyers for the Commonwealth have acknowledged they couldn't point to any instance of voter fraud. The trial beginning Monday could give the law some sticking power or deliver a death blow. The judge must rule on the constitutionality of voter ID under state law. His ruling is expected to be appealed to the state's Supreme Court.
Pennsylvania officials have worked to defuse the issue. Last summer, just before the first court hearing on the law, state officials created a new special voting ID card that would be easier for some to obtain than a driver's license. And Applewhite, the lead plaintiff, she finally did get her ID, but ACLU lawyer Vic Walczak points out she has ID because state clerks made an exception for her. She still doesn't have the documents she needs under the law to get a photo ID to vote.
VIC WALCZAK: There are still hundreds of thousands of people like that. And the Commonwealth needs to take steps to make sure that all of them have the ID, not just people who become famous through a lawsuit or participate in a lawsuit.
WILSON: The actual number of eligible voters without ID is elusive and highly disputed. Commonwealth lawyers defending voter ID will argue the figure is immaterial, according to a document obtained from the Office of the Attorney General. The Commonwealth's position is that it's done enough to make it possible for people to get voter IDs. Rick Hasen says implementation matters. He's a professor specializing in election law at UC Irvine School of Law.
RICK HASEN: It's one thing to say that you'll offer people free ID. It's another thing to actually have such a program in place. And the reason that the law was put on hold in the last election was that the state couldn't demonstrate it could actually get IDs into the hands of the people who wanted them in time for the last election.
WILSON: Say, the law is upheld, it could have national impact. Hasen says the requirement might barely change election outcomes, but Pennsylvania could be a swing state in presidential elections. And Hasen says if the law passes court muster, other Republican legislatures might see it as a reason to implement their own ID laws or make any laws on the books stricter. For NPR News, I'm Mary Wilson in Harrisburg.
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