News Column

Why Voter ID Law Was Flawed From Outset

July 23, 2013

Karen Langley

While the Pennsylvania voter ID law was being developed, officials within the Corbett administration noted concerns similar to those now raised in court by parties claiming the requirement is unconstitutional.

An internal bill analysis presented in Commonwealth Court on Monday by challengers of the law shows the Department of State had learned that college students and residents of care facilities might not be reached by provisions of the law intended to ensure they would have access to acceptable identification. Most university identification lacked expiration dates, while most care facilities did not issue IDs, the December 2011 analysis said.

Of particular concern was a scenario that could be encountered by residents of care facilities that house polling places. A resident too unwell to travel to a Department of Transportation licensing center to obtain an ID might still be able to get to the polls and thus be ineligible to vote absentee.

"The individual may then claim that he or she has been deprived the right to vote," the document says.

The Department of State, which oversees elections, also discussed additional forms of identification that were not included in the law. In a September 2011 memo to Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, Rebecca Oyler, then the department's policy director, wrote that with the approval of the governor's office, the agency was speaking with Senate staff about expanding the list of acceptable IDs to include expired driver's licenses for voters older than 65 and photo IDs issued by counties, municipalities and school districts. The memo also mentions the idea of not requiring expiration dates on IDs.

"Those were just items that were under discussion in the General Assembly at the time," Ms. Oyler testified Monday.

As the bill became law, driver's licenses and other PennDOT IDs are valid for voting for 12 months after they expire, while other forms of ID must have a valid expiration date, except for military IDs with an indefinite expiration date. Rather than blanket acceptance of IDs issued by counties and municipalities, only IDs for employees are permitted.

Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and one of the attorneys for the challengers, said the memo showed Gov. Tom Corbett and Ms. Aichele had considered a broader set of IDs that would have allowed more voters to prove their identities.

"You have to make sure you're doing whatever you can to not infringe on people's rights," she said. "Here these guys were talking of ways to reduce the harm to people, but it never got into the law."

Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for Mr. Corbett's general counsel, said the documents show discussion typical of the legislative process.

"What really should be judged in terms of what's constitutional and what's operational is the law as it stands right now, not the law that was being discussed in 2011," Mr. Frederiksen said.

He noted that the bill Mr. Corbett signed into law in March 2012 allows more forms of identification than the version that initially passed the House. The administration maintains that the law allows any voter who wishes to obtain identification to do so.

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.

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