HARRISBURG - The fate of Pennsylvania's 16-month-old voter identification law is in the hands of a Commonwealth Court judge after closing arguments in the landmark voting-rights case Thursday.
The state argued that it had done its part to ensure that all registered voters had access to mandatory ID, while petitioners countered that those efforts were not enough.
Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, said the law placed a "fundamental burden" on a right "enshrined in the Constitution."
"It is time to put an end to this and enjoin this law," Clarke told Judge Bernard McGinley.
Attorneys for the state offered no evidence of voter fraud in the commonwealth but defended the law as needed to protect the integrity of the vote.
Alicia Hickok, an attorney with Drinker Biddle representing the state, said officials had done "whatever is possible, whatever is necessary, and whatever is legal" to ensure that voters know about the new law and how to go about applying for a free, voting-only card if they lack any other acceptable forms of ID.
The 12-day trial featured testimony from state officials, statistics experts, and petitioners. Most of the petitioners were elderly and disabled. Several said they were unable to vote last November because they could not obtain proper ID.
Several state officials testified about numerous efforts that were made to improve access to IDs and inform the public about the new law through a $5 million federally funded media and direct-mail campaign.
Still, by multiple different estimates, Clarke said, there are likely hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who lack ID to vote.
"There is no safety net that allows those who go to polls without IDs to cast a regular ballot," she said.
Hickok accused the petitioners of "playing fast and loose with the facts" about the numbers of people affected. She said the law made accommodations by allowing college and nursing-home IDs with expiration dates to be valid for voting.
In her rebuttal, Clarke reminded the court of the apparent political motivations voiced by some of the law's leading supporters, among them House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny), who in a closed-door meeting with GOP supporters last summer said voter ID would help Republican Mitt Romney win Pennsylvania's presidential vote.
A Philadelphia statistics expert, Bernard Siskin, testified that Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans not to have proper ID, Clarke said.
In an unexpected announcement, Hickok said the state would be willing to extend the injunction through this November's election - meaning people would not be required to have ID to vote for the fourth election since the law was passed.
Clarke said opponents of the ID law were pleased with the news, but would agree only if the court removed the current requirement that voters be asked to show ID even though they were not required to have it.
She said that rule has caused confusion in the last three elections. Hickok said the state would oppose the petitioners' request.
It was not clear when McGinley would rule. Both sides have vowed to appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.