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Legal challenge to Pennsylvania voter ID law begins in court

Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times  Without her Social Security card, which was stolen, Viviette Applewhite may not be able to get a state-approved identification for voting in Pennsylvania.

Without her Social Security card, which was stolen, Viviette Applewhite may not be able to get a state-approved identification for voting in Pennsylvania. [Photo: Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times]

The case that will decide whether the state’s tough new voter-ID law should stand began this morning in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg.

Attorneys for civil liberties groups argued the law will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters and that its purpose – to prevent voter fraud – simply masks its true intent: to sway elections in favor of one political party.

“We will show that the integrity of the electoral process is not enhanced by turning away people at the ballot box,” said David Gersh, one of the attorneys in the case.

The state, which is being represented by the Attorney General’s Office, argued that the law is not burdensome and that voters have been given ample time and opportunity to obtain the necessary photo identification to vote.

Senior deputy Attorney General Patrick Cawley said the department of state, which oversees elections, is also in the midst of a massive and aggressive public education campaign so that all voters know what is required of them. He also said the state is helping to provide free photo ids to those who need it.

“A great many hurdles have already been removed from the path of voters who want to vote,” Cawley said.

But some of the hurdles remain.

Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old great-great grandmother born in Germantown, spent most of her life in Philadelphia, but moved around in Illinois, Virginia, Georgia and Mississippi. She married young, divorced, and vowed never to remarry again.

“It didn’t last long and I’m not going to say any more about it,” Applewhite told the judge.

She was born Viviette Brooks but took the name Applewhite after the father of her boyfriend for 22 years, Thomas Applewhite of Mississippi, adopted her.

“They wanted to make sure I got the property and things when everybody died,” she explained.

Today, Applewhite would not be able to vote because her social security card, Virginia ID, and birth certificate were stolen years ago. She said she has spent five years trying to replace those items. Since then, only her birth certificate has been found.

“I know my social security number by heart,” Applewhite said. “But that isn’t good enough to get it back.”

One of the problems Applewhite faces is that her birth certificate name, Brooks, differs from her social security card name, Applewhite. Many of the proofs of residence provided in the courtroom exhibits had incorrect or incomplete addresses.

But Applewhite remains determined to be able to vote in November.

“It gives me my rights to do and say things I want to say and do and say things I want to do,” Applewhite said, “and it gives me the right to help people and myself.”

Applewhite has only missed one presidential election in her lifetime. She spent 12 hours looking for the polling place and never found it.

The voter-ID case, expect to last up to seven days, is being watched closely as debate rages nationally over the necessity of requiring voters to show photo identification.

Judge Robert Simpson noted at the start of the day that his court probably won’t have the last say in the case.

“I am really a way station to the Supreme Court,” Simpson said.

Watch the video of Mike Turzai admitting that the voter ID law was put in place to assure Romney a win in Pennsylvania click play below:


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