Northeast Times

Voter ID Day

Start­Frag­ment

The half-dozen mem­bers of the Pennsylvania Su­preme Court will soon de­term­ine wheth­er the state’s new voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion law stays or goes, and two North­east res­id­ents will be among those mak­ing the all-im­port­ant de­cision.

The six justices will gath­er on Thursday, Sept. 13, in Room 456 of Phil­adelphia City Hall to hear or­al ar­gu­ments on voter ID. Af­ter­ward, they will also hear an ap­peal on an­oth­er big case, le­gis­lat­ive re­dis­trict­ing.

Ar­gu­ments on voter ID are ex­pec­ted to be­gin at 9:30 a.m. Doors open at 8:30 a.m., and seat­ing is on a first-come, first-served basis. The en­tire ses­sion will be broad­cast live on Pennsylvania Cable Net­work.

The justices can take their time rul­ing on the re­dis­trict­ing case. New bound­ary lines for Sen­ate and House dis­tricts won’t be in place un­til the 2014 elec­tions.

The voter ID de­cision, however, will prob­ably come soon, since Elec­tion Day is  fast-ap­proach­ing on Nov. 6.

Chief Justice Ron Castille, a Rhawn­hurst Re­pub­lic­an, leads the court. He’s joined by Justice Seamus Mc­Caf­fery, a Bustleton Demo­crat. Both Castille and Mc­Caf­fery de­clined to be in­ter­viewed for this art­icle.

Also sit­ting for the ar­gu­ments will be Justices Thomas Saylor, Mi­chael Eakin, Max Baer and Debra Todd. A sev­enth mem­ber, Joan Orie Melvin, is sus­pen­ded as she faces charges that she used ju­di­cial staff to help her cam­paign.

Most ob­serv­ers be­lieve the fi­nal vote will be either 3-3 or 4-2, with Castille cast­ing the swing vote. If the court ends in a 3-3 dead­lock, the voter ID law, which was en­acted by the Re­pub­lic­an-con­trolled le­gis­lature and signed by Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Tom Corbett, will re­main in place.

Courts are not sup­posed to be polit­ic­al, but Demo­crats Mc­Caf­fery, Baer and Todd are ex­pec­ted to vote to strike down the law.

Mc­Caf­fery, 62, is a nat­ive of Bel­fast, North­ern Ire­land, and 1968 gradu­ate of Car­din­al Dougherty High School. He was a Phil­adelphia po­lice of­ficer for 20 years and served in the U.S. Mar­ine Corps and Air Force Re­serve. He was elec­ted to Mu­ni­cip­al Court in 1993 and was best known for hand­ling nuis­ance night court and Eagles Court at the old Vet­er­ans Sta­di­um. He was elec­ted to Su­per­i­or Court in 2003 and Su­preme Court in 2007.

Re­pub­lic­ans Saylor and Eakin are ex­pec­ted to vote to up­hold the law.

Then there’s Castille, 68. He’s a former Phil­adelphia dis­trict at­tor­ney, elec­ted in 1985 and re-elec­ted in 1989. He resigned to run for may­or in 1991, but lost the GOP primary to former May­or Frank L. Rizzo. Castille was elec­ted to the Su­preme Court two years later and was el­ev­ated to chief justice in 2008. He re­mains the last Re­pub­lic­an to win a city­wide race.

Castille came to Phil­adelphia after suf­fer­ing ser­i­ous in­jur­ies dur­ing the Vi­et­nam War. He lost his right leg and spent 10 months re­cov­er­ing at the Phil­adelphia Nav­al Hos­pit­al in South Phil­adelphia. He later earned a law de­gree from the Uni­versity of Vir­gin­ia and be­came an as­sist­ant dis­trict at­tor­ney be­fore win­ning the top job.

CASTILLE SIDES WITH DEMS

In Janu­ary, Castille stunned the state polit­ic­al es­tab­lish­ment by sid­ing with the court’s Demo­crats to re­ject the Le­gis­lat­ive Re­ap­por­tion­ment Com­mis­sion’s re­dis­trict­ing plan.

Many of the ap­peals in that case were brought by Demo­crats, who thought the plan favored the GOP.

As for voter ID, many Demo­crats see it as a way to de­press their vote in the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, where Pennsylvania is an im­port­ant swing state, and in fu­ture races. They claim the law will have the biggest im­pact on minor­it­ies and the poor, who vote over­whelm­ingly for Demo­crats.

Re­pub­lic­ans main­tain that the law is meant to guard against voter fraud.

Op­pon­ents of the law ap­pealed to Com­mon­wealth Court, but Judge Robert Simpson re­fused to is­sue an in­junc­tion.

“Pe­ti­tion­ers did not es­tab­lish, however, that dis­en­fran­chise­ment was im­me­di­ate or in­ev­it­able,” he wrote in a 70-page opin­ion.

The NAACP, the Home­less Ad­vocacy Pro­ject and oth­er pe­ti­tion­ers have ap­pealed that rul­ing to Su­preme Court. Sup­port­ing the pe­ti­tion­ers are the state AFL-CIO, city elec­tions com­mis­sion­er Stephanie Sing­er and oth­ers.

Gregory Har­vey, chair­man of pub­lic elec­tion law prac­tice at the firm Mont­gomery Mc­Crack­en, is not the coun­sel to the pe­ti­tion­ers, but he has read and com­men­ted on their brief. Har­vey is co-chair­man of the 8th Ward Demo­crat­ic Com­mit­tee in Cen­ter City. He ac­know­ledges that “few, if any” voters in his ward lack voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion.

The vet­er­an at­tor­ney notes that sup­port­ers of the law have failed to pro­duce any evid­ence of voter fraud.

Re­pub­lic­ans have pro­posed voter ID laws in oth­er states, and Har­vey thinks the GOP can be­ne­fit at the polls.

“This is in­ten­ded to lim­it the Demo­crat­ic vote and al­low Mitt Rom­ney to win the elec­tion,” he said.

House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mike Turzai has said as much – telling the Re­pub­lic­an State Com­mit­tee that Rom­ney has a bet­ter chance to de­feat Pres­id­ent Barack Obama in Pennsylvania be­cause of the law. Non­ethe­less, in the wake of Simpson’s rul­ing, he said state agen­cies will im­ple­ment the law in a non-par­tis­an, even-handed man­ner.

“It’s about one per­son, one vote, and each in­stance of fraud di­lutes le­git­im­ate votes,” he said. “It is un­for­tu­nate, but there has been a his­tory of voter fraud in Pennsylvania. The elec­tions in the com­mon­wealth will be on a more level play­ing field thanks to voter ID and oth­er re­cent elec­tion re­forms.”

ID NEEDED AT THE POLLS

To vote this year, in­di­vidu­als will have to show photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion at their polling places. They can pro­duce a driver’s li­cense or non-driver’s li­cense; a pass­port; an act­ive duty or re­tired mil­it­ary ID card; gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ee card; col­lege iden­ti­fic­a­tion is­sued to stu­dents, em­ploy­ees and alumni; or ID cards is­sued by care fa­cil­it­ies.

In­di­vidu­als who do not have these forms of iden­ti­fic­a­tion can go to a PennDOT driver’s li­cense cen­ter to ob­tain a free photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion card. They must sup­ply a So­cial Se­cur­ity card and either a birth cer­ti­fic­ate or pass­port, along with two proofs of res­id­ency, such as a lease agree­ment, mort­gage doc­u­ments, W-2 form, tax re­cords or cur­rent util­ity bills.

And for any­one who can­not se­cure a photo ID card from PennDOT, they can still ap­ply for a new Pennsylvania De­part­ment of State voter card. Those free cards are avail­able at driver’s li­cense cen­ters. In­di­vidu­als must provide two proofs of res­id­ence, such as a util­ity bill, along with their date of birth and So­cial Se­cur­ity num­ber. Once a PennDOT clerk val­id­ates the per­son’s voter re­gis­tra­tion status with the De­part­ment of State, the in­di­vidu­al will re­ceive the card on the spot. It’s good for 10 years.

“This new ID serves as a safety net for those who can’t find or ob­tain veri­fic­a­tion doc­u­ments nor­mally re­quired for a PennDOT se­cure iden­ti­fic­a­tion card,” said Barry J. Schoch, PennDOT sec­ret­ary.

In all, there are about 8.2 mil­lion re­gistered voters in Pennsylvania.

PennDOT and the De­part­ment of State com­pared lists, and the fig­ures showed that there are al­most 759,000 more voters than those who have a PennDOT-is­sued iden­ti­fic­a­tion card. In an ex­am­in­a­tion of the 14 wards in the North­east, about 38,000 people are on the vot­ing list, but not the PennDOT one.

Op­pon­ents of the new law cite those fig­ures to ar­gue that people will be dis­en­fran­chised.

QUES­TIONS ABOUT NUM­BERS

Sup­port­ers of the law say the fig­ures are in­flated. Even Simpson, the Com­mon­wealth Court judge, wrote in his opin­ion that he was “skep­tic­al” about the statewide num­ber.

Al­most 168,000 people on the list have not voted since 2007, a good sign that most of them have died or moved. Oth­ers have ID not is­sued by PennDOT. And oth­ers are on the list by er­ror, be­cause their names don’t ex­actly match when com­par­ing both lists, either be­cause of a mis­placed apo­strophe, a nick­name, middle ini­tial, etc.

Whatever the ac­cur­ate fig­ure is, Pennsylvani­ans don’t seem to be break­ing down the doors of PennDOT driver’s li­cens­ing cen­ters to get an ID. PennDOT spokes­wo­man Jan McK­night said the latest fig­ures from her of­fice show that 7,226 people have got­ten photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion cards since the law passed in March, and a mere 472 people have got­ten the vot­ing-only card since it be­came avail­able on Aug. 27.

Most out­reach ef­forts to get voters the ap­pro­pri­ate ID seem to be centered in areas such as North and West Phil­adelphia, where turnout is cru­cial to Demo­crat­ic vic­tor­ies.

The North­east seems to be quiet, at least for now, when it comes to any ex­tens­ive ef­fort to get res­id­ents to ob­tain ID.

On Sept. 27, the Rhawn­hurst Nat­ur­ally Oc­cur­ring Re­tire­ment Com­munity (NORC) will wel­come the Com­mit­tee of Sev­enty to its monthly lunch­eon meet­ing to ex­plain the voter ID is­sue to guests age 60 and older. The gath­er­ing is set for noon at Rhawn­hurst Pres­by­teri­an Church, at 7701 Lor­etto Ave., and the top­ic will come up again at the group’s Oc­to­ber meet­ing.

“There’s a cer­tain level of con­fu­sion about what they ac­tu­ally need to do,” NORC pro­gram man­ager Abby Gil­bert said of people com­ply­ing with the law. “We want to make sure they have the in­form­a­tion they need so they are not sur­prised when they get to the polls.” ••

Any­one in need of photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion to vote can vis­it any of PennDOT’s 71 driver’s li­cens­ing cen­ters. Only one, at 919-B Levick St. in Ox­ford Circle, is loc­ated in the North­east. Oth­er close ones are at 4201 Ne­sham­iny Blvd. in Ben­s­alem and 2022 County Line Road in Hunt­ing­don Val­ley. The stand-alone photo cen­ters in May­fair Shop­ping Cen­ter and Hendrix Shop­ping Cen­ter in Somer­ton do not of­fer the ser­vice.

For more in­form­a­tion, call the De­part­ment of State toll-free at 1-877-868-3772.

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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