We can argue (and do) about whether state voter id laws are necessary or not, but arguments in favor of them are premised on the idea that the state can competently administer the law and make sure that people who want i.d.’s can get them.
I’ve already flagged how Pennsylvania’s new law was poorly drafted to give too much discretion to election officials to decide what kinds of forms of i.d. should be acceptable and who counts as an indigent.
But the bigger problem that has come to light in the current trial is that Pa. officials do not have a good handle on how many people need an i.d., and those charged with administering the law don’t seem to be taking seriously their obligation to get i.d.’s into the hands of eligible voters in time for November’s election.
From a CBS report on today’s trial:
Pennsylvania’s Secretary of the Commonwealth was on the witness stand today, during day five of the court hearing on Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law.
And her testimony just added to the confusion over exactly how many voters need ID.
Secretary of the Commonwealth Carole Aichele is the top state official in charge of implementing the voter ID. But when she took the stand she was cagey, even making jokes in some instances in her response to plaintiffs’ attorneys.
At one point, when lawyers asked her about the details of the voter ID law, Aichele responded, “I don’t know what the law says.”…
When lawyers questioned Aichele today about the number of Pennsylvanians who need ID, Aichele was adamant that 99 percent of voters had valid ID.
When plaintiffs’ attorneys cited earlier Department of State testimony that the number is likely inaccurate, Aichele said simply, “I disagree.”
She later admitted that the state does not know the real number of voters who need ID.
The more I hear about the trial, the more convinced I am that a fair-minded judge (which this trial judge certainly appears to be) would be likely to issue a preliminary injunction barring the use of the i.d. requirement in the November elections. That would give the state time to get its act together by 2014, the next federal elections.
I should add that with Pa. Supreme Court Justice Orie temporarily off the court while criminal charges against her are heard, there’s the possibility of a 3-3 split should any decision on the preliminary injunction be appealed to the Pa. Supreme Court.
A tie would leave the trial judge’s decision standing.
This is likely the most consequential voter i.d. case in the country for purposes of the presidential election, because Pa. is the only presidential swing state where there is uncertainty as to whether the voter i.d. law will be in place this November.