The hearing Tuesday in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg is the latest chapter in a legal challenge to the 6-month-old law that has become a partisan lightning rod after every Democrat in the Republican-controlled state Legislature voted against it.
In court filings Monday, the state's lawyers argued that a voting-only photo ID card that the state began issuing four weeks ago is widely available. Testimony was expected Tuesday by three top officials from the departments of State, which oversees elections, and Transportation, which oversees the issuance of photo IDs.
However, lawyers for the plaintiffs say that registered voters continue to be turned away from state driver licensing centers without a photo ID. They cite burdensome, complicated and illegal requirements that are out of step with the law's promise of a photo ID for every eligible voter who needs one to vote. They expect to present witness testimony in court on Thursday.
In a 4-2 decision last week, the state Supreme Court ordered the hearing and said the law can stand for the Nov. 6 election if the judge believes no registered voters will be prevented from casting a ballot. Otherwise, the high court said it should be halted.
The Supreme Court asked for an opinion by Oct. 2, just 35 days before the election.
The judge hearing the case, Robert Simpson, initially denied the request for a preliminary injunction in August, saying the plaintiffs did not show that "disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable." But the Supreme Court's directions to the lower court set a much tougher standard for tolerating voter disenfranchisement than the one Simpson used.
Pennsylvania's new law is among the toughest in the nation. The prior law required identification only for people voting in a polling place for the first time and it allowed non-photo documents such as utility bills or bank statements. The new law requires each voter to show a particular form of photo ID, such as a driver's license, passport, active duty military identification, nursing home ID or college student ID.