Weeks before election, Pennsylvania voter ID law back in court
HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - A judge who will decide whether Pennsylvania's new voter-identification law should be blocked heard testimony on Tuesday from one witness who said fears that the measure placed an unfair burden on residents were overblown.
The witness, Kurt Myers, a deputy secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said about 11,000 voters have gotten the mandated ID cards at the center of the controversial law and thousands more were set to get theirs before the November 6 election.
"We're in the business of issuing IDs, not denying IDs," Myers told Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson.
Simpson, who upheld the law in August, called the hearing on orders by the state's highest court to reconsider his ruling. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week told him to decide by October 2 whether voters have "liberal access" to the mandated IDs, and if they don't, to block the law before the November election.
National attention is focused on the court battle over the law passed in March by the Republican-led Legislature without a single Democratic vote, as similar fights over potential voter disenfranchisement by ID laws are waged in Texas and South Carolina.
A flashpoint is the law's effect on voter turnout in Pennsylvania, a key swing state in the tight presidential race just six weeks away.
Critics say it is designed to keep minority voters, who typically vote Democratic, away from the polls. Supporters of the voter ID law say it is aimed at ensuring that only those legally eligible to vote cast ballots.
The law says that all voters must show either a state driver's license, government employee ID or a state non-driver ID card to vote.
Myers said his agency, known as PennDOT, has been doing everything it can to get voter IDs to those who want them. While challengers argue otherwise, Myers maintained there will not be a large, last-minute push by voters to get allowable IDs.
"The data doesn't support that there are thousands and thousands of people out there without (a) voter ID," he said.
Simpson, who has until October 2 to issue his ruling, was expected to continue hearing testimony on Thursday and indicated he will rule shortly after that.
"I am not of the mind to wait until the last minute. The sooner the better," Simpson said. (Writing by Barbara Goldberg; editing by Philip Barbara)