The state Supreme Court’s long-awaited hearing on Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law was going pretty much as expected when Justice Thomas G. Saylor, a white-haired veteran jurist from Somerset County, brought a new issue into the long-running controversy. He’d been reading the law himself, Saylor told chief deputy attorney general John G. Knorr 3d, and he questioned whether the commonwealth was actually following the precise requirements of the voter-ID law passed last March – specifically, a provision that requires the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to provide a nondriver photo ID card to any registered voter who swears that he needs it for voting purposes. To the surprise of many in the standing-room-only courtroom in City Hall, Knorr agreed with the justice.
The federal government’s Homeland Security laws forced PennDot to require some additional proof before providing citizens with identification cards, Knorr explained, so the agency could not comply with that provision of the law. That was part of the reason the state came up with yet another form of photo ID, never mentioned in the voter-ID law, that became available to the public in late August, Knorr said.
The new ID, also issued by PennDot but referred to within the transportation department as the “Department of State ID,” requires registered voters to provide two numbers that every citizen should have – a date of birth and a Social Security number – along with proof of residency. The significance of Saylor’s questioning and Knorr’s answers was left unclear. The justice did not indicate that it would sway his vote one way or the other on whether the voter-ID law should remain in force for the November election. But it followed a presentation by opponents of the law in which David Gersch, a lawyer with the Washington law firm Arnold & Porter, told the court the main problem with the law was its failure to ensure that all voters could get the ID now required to vote at the polls in November.