HARRISBURG, Pa. —Pennsylvania’s tough new voter identification law was challenged in court Tuesday by 10 registered voters, including some who say they are unable to get the kind of ID now required and one woman who said she had to pay for one despite the law’s promise of a free photo ID.
The lawsuit, filed in the state’s Commonwealth Court, said the law violates the state constitution’s “free and equal” elections clause and another clause that establishes qualifications to vote in Pennsylvania.
“Many otherwise qualified voters will face great difficulty or be unable to obtain the necessary ID and will therefore be disenfranchised in the upcoming general election and future elections,” the suit said. “As a result, far from protecting the integrity of Pennsylvania elections, the photo ID law will lead to elections that are no longer free and equal.”
The lawsuit seeks an injunction that halts the enforcement of the law and documents examples of people having a hard time getting the free photo ID that the state promises under the law. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia are helping represent the plaintiffs.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed the bill March 14 — one of the nation’s toughest voter ID laws — after it passed the GOP-controlled state Legislature over the objections of Democrats, the AARP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, labor unions and good-government groups.
Opponents of the law call it a throwback to the now-unconstitutional poll taxes and literacy tests designed to discriminate against poor and minority voters and a thinly veiled attempt to defeat President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 election, when Pennsylvania, historically a swing state, is again expected to be a high-profile battleground.
Republicans, who for years have harbored suspicions of widespread voter fraud in the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia, say the law is a common-sense measure to ensure the integrity of the balloting and that photo IDs are regularly used in day-to-day activity.
But, the lawsuit said, it will result in a large-scale disenfranchisement that will cast doubt on the integrity of Pennsylvania’s election results.
“With no evidence of any meaningful in-person voter fraud, the photo ID law is a cure in search of a nonexistent disease,” the suit said. “But the supposed cure itself threatens to kill the patient — namely, the integrity of elections in Pennsylvania.”
The Corbett administration has said it believes the law will withstand a court challenge. The nine-member Commonwealth Court is composed of seven Republicans and two Democrats.
Plaintiffs include three women, Wilola Shinholster Lee, Gloria Cuttino and Dorothy Barkdale, who were born in southern states and who have been told by their birth states that there is no record of their birth, the lawsuit said, suggesting that it is impossible for them to get a valid state photo ID.
Another plaintiff, Grover Freeland, served in the Army, but his veteran’s ID card isn’t valid under Pennsylvania’s voter ID Law and New York has denied his request for a birth certificate, the suit said.
The lawsuit documented the difficulty that another plaintiff, Joyce Block, went through. Block needed the intervention of a state senator to get a state ID, because the only documentation of the change from her birth name to her married name on her voter registration is a marriage certificate in Hebrew.
The suit also documented the difficulty that Henrietta Kay Dickerson had in getting a free photo ID from the state, as the law promised. She said she ended up being required to pay $13.50 for an ID.
“Since Ms. Dickerson does not need the ID for any reason but to vote, the fee is tantamount to a poll tax,” the lawsuit said.