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Pa. Voter ID Law Has Its Day in Court Amid Claims of Disenfranchising Minority Voters

Pa. Voter ID Law Has Its Day in Court Amid Claims of Disenfranchising Minority Voters

Voter ID laws have emerged as one of the hot-button political issues of the past few years. And now a group of Pennsylvania citizens and organizations are challenging the state law and presenting their case in state court this week, bypassing the traditional path most voter rights cases take through federal courts.

The question that is being argued and may only be answered on Election Day is whether, if left intact, the law would hurt Democratic turnout. If so, would it affect President Obama's chances to win a second term?

Republicans see the new law as nothing other than a simple solution to assure the person who comes to cast their vote is who they say they are – the new laws require a valid photo ID.

But Democrats claim the law is nothing more than a way to revert back to "Jim Crow" laws that discouraged minorities from participating in the election process – making an effort to obtain such an ID is not possible for some.

In his opening arguments on Wednesday representing the plaintiffs, attorney David Gersh said the perceived "fraud" behind the bill, in reality, does not exist.

"The integrity of the electoral process is not enhanced by turning people away from the polls," said Gersch, who is representing 10 individuals and groups that include the NAACP, and League of Women Voters. Voting is not a privilege. It is a right."

Gersch also claimed that the law, known as Act 18, might impact over 1.1 million people. Pennsylvania state officials dispute that number, estimating that only 85,000 voters will need a special ID that would be issued to eligible voters at no cost.

One of the plaintiffs – 93-year-old Vivian Applewhite – says obtaining the required ID may prove to be difficult. The reason – she has been married several times and she thinks it may be difficult proving her name since she cannot provide documentation such as a marriage license or birth certificate. However, there is no evidence her request has been denied by state officials.

But political preference aside, the outcome of the law will most likely depend upon the interpretation of Pennsylvania's constitution. If the law prohibits even one person from voting then it would probably be deemed unconstitutional.

Interestingly, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the states the go-ahead to require a valid state-issued ID in 2008. Then Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said a similar law passed in Indiana was "amply justified by the valid interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process."

If the Pennsylvania law is struck down, it won't be the first time. Judges in Missouri and Wisconsin have also blocked similar laws from requiring voters who do not have one to obtain a valid photo ID.

In defending his decision, a Wisconsin Judge David Flanagan wrote, "The qualification for voting is guaranteed in the constitution and cannot be changed by statute or impaired by regulation."

In speeches before the NAACP and other groups, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has vowed to fight the laws he refers to as "poll taxes" and says they disproportionately impact minority Americans.

Republican legislators who pushed for and ultimately passed the law say politics was not a factor, although a statement by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai in June gave Democrats the ammunition they were looking for when he indicated the law would lead Mitt Romney to win the state in November.

Arguments are expected to take several days before the judge issues a ruling.

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