Pa. voter ID law on trial

Viviette Applewhite is among a few hundred thousand registered voters who don't have an acceptable photo ID.
CBS News

(CBS News) PHILADELPHIA - Viviette Applewhite remembers voting for Franklin D. Roosevelt for President of the United States in the 1940s. In the 1960s, she recalls marching once behind Martin Luther King.

Now 93-years old, Applewhite is afraid she will not be able to vote in November due to Pennsylvania's four-month-old, strict voter photo identification law.

"I don't think it's fair," she said in an interview at her Philadelphia apartment. "I think it should be my right to vote. That's the way I feel about it."

She's among a few hundred thousand registered voters, according to estimates by Pennsylvania officials, who don't have an acceptable photo ID, such as a driver's license.

"I've never driven a car in my life. Never wanted to," she said.

The Pennsylvania Department of State announced July 3 that nearly 759,000 registered voters, or 9 percent, lacked a driver's license or state-issued ID.

But 22 percent of those voters, or 167,000, were considered inactive voters for not having voted in at least five years. Most are presumed to have left the state, according to spokesman Ron Ruman.

Ruman said some names that popped up as lacking ID were mistakes stemming from slight differences in the spelling of names in the Department of Transportation database and the voter rolls. Other voters could vote by presenting photo IDs issued by Pennsylvania colleges, nursing homes, city and federal government jobs, and the military, Ruman said.

University of Washington political science professor Matt Barreto, in a paper published July 16, based on a survey of eligible Pennsylvania voters, estimated that one-third of Pennsylvanians are unaware of the new law, and that as many as 757,000, or 12.6 percent Pennsylvanians who voted in 2008, lack a valid ID.

When Applewhite sought a new photo ID to comply with the law, she requested a copy of her birth certificate. But because it contains her maiden name, Brooks, it did not help.

She has become the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit brought by the Advancement Project, a Washington-based civil rights organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, challenging the constitutionality of the new law. The trial seeking a preliminary injunction of the law began Wednesday and continues next week.

"These voter ID laws undermine democracy by cutting off participation," said Judith Browne Dianis, an attorney with the Advancement Project. "These laws do not prevent fraud; they prevent voting."

Applewhite believes photo voter ID -- approved by a Republican-controlled state legislature and signed by Republican governor Tom Corbett -- is aimed at suppressing the votes of minorities, who lean Democratic and turned out in record numbers for President Obama in 2008.

"They don't want him in there, and they're trying to get him out. They will get him out because if the black people don't vote for him, he's crippled," Applewhite said.

As evidence, backers of the lawsuit point to comments that Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai made to a Republican gathering on June 23, listing party achievements: "Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania -- done!"

Pennsylvania is one of 10 states to adopt a photo voter ID law since 2011. New Hampshire is the most recent, last month, when the state legislature overrode a veto by Democratic Governor Jonathan Lynch. Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin are the others. All but Rhode Island had a Republican governor and state legislature.

The new laws are in legal limbo in six of those states. Two states -- South Carolina and Texas -- are suing the federal Justice Department for blocking their laws. Because higher percentages of racial minorities lack the needed identification cards, compared to whites, DOJ found South Carolina's law discriminatory against blacks and Texas' law discriminatory against Latinos.

"In no court case has someone been able to prove or show that there is actually someone who's been disenfranchised or had their right to vote suppressed," said Alan Wilson, South Carolina attorney general, at an election integrity panel hosted by the Heritage Foundation on Thursday.

Eight states earlier adopted photo voter ID laws -- Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, South Dakota. Proponents have said the law are intended at preventing voter fraud. The Supreme Court held in 2008 that Indiana's law did not present an undue burden on voters.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told the Heritage Foundation audience the number of people lacking proper ID's is overstated.

In an interview, he said, "We've had this law in effect since January 1st. We have had 53 county and local elections since then. And so far, about one-tenth of one percent of voters have shown up to the polls without a photo ID. The vast majority of them actually had one. They left it at home or they chose not bring it."

Kobach said there had been 235 "credible reports" of voter fraud in Kansas between 1997 and 2010, however, in the past five years, Kansas district attorneys and federal prosecutors have actually prosecuted only a handful of voter fraud cases. In Pennsylvania, there have been no voter fraud prosecutions at the state or federal level in the past five years.

That is why Christopher Broach, an election judge in a Delaware County, Pennsylvania, precinct with about 1,500 voters, plans on risking a fine or jail time for disobeying the new law, particularly when he knows the voters personally.

"I am absolutely not going to enforce the new voter ID law," said Broach, a Democrat. "I believe that it is unconstitutional and it disenfranchises voters regardless to what party they're in."

Broach believes voter impersonation has never been a serious problem. He said, "I believe it's about suppressing votes and violating people's civil rights."

Viviette Applewhite thought those rights were settled long ago. She said, "It upsets me, it really does."

Abigail Collins, Rosalie Forman, Stephanie R. Johnson, and Paul Bogosian contributed to this story.

  • Elaine Quijano
    Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.