News Column

Pa. Sending Mixed Messages on Voter ID

Oct. 12, 2012

Timothy McNulty and Karen Langley

AFL-CIO website.
AFL-CIO website.

State agencies stumbled in the rollout of Pennsylvania's voter ID requirements over the last several months.

The rollback hasn't been perfect, either.

Some PennDOT driver's license centers were still offering materials Thursday saying photo identification will be required to vote on Election Day, Nov. 6, despite a ruling to the contrary last week by a Commonwealth Court judge.

A bustling center in Penn Hills was still displaying posters for the state's "Show It" voter education campaign on the suspended voter ID requirement and had a table with information sheets saying "Photo ID required for November 2012 Election." The center in Harrisburg had that handout, too.

Several complaints about out-of-date voter ID materials in other PennDOT centers have been reported to staff at the Pennsylvania Voter ID coalition in Philadelphia, according to Ellen Kaplan, vice president and policy director of the civic group Committee of Seventy. There are also some billboards still indicating IDs will be necessary next month for voting.

PennDOT spokeswoman Jan McKnight said via email that all supervisors at the centers were "instructed to remove all signage and materials that indicated an ID is required for November's election" and that the department would "address the issue" with those centers still offering the materials.

Judge Robert Simpson issued an order Oct. 2 upholding Pennsylvania's strict voter ID law but keeping it from going into effect Nov. 6. The order praised efforts by PennDOT and the Department of State to improve systems for distributing valid identification to voters and said voter outreach and education efforts by both agencies were "extensive."

But he still said they had not done enough to keep some voters from possibly being disenfranchised: "I expected more photo IDs to have been issued by this time. For this reason, I accept Petitioners' argument that in the remaining five weeks before the general election, the gap between the photo IDs issued and the estimated need will not be closed."

Since then, the Department of State -- which oversees elections -- pulled its television ads on the voter ID requirements after the judge's order and this week began running new ones saying "When voting in Pennsylvania this Election Day, November 6th, you will be asked but not required to show a photo ID." The agency's website, www.votespa.com, features similar messages: The new voter ID section is headlined "Photo ID Requested for November 2012 Election."

PennDOT offices are similarly featuring posters saying "Get Your Voter ID Forms Here." That is because some voters are still requesting voting-only IDs from the centers, the department's spokeswoman said, and the posters do not say voters need the IDs. (Statewide, the department issued 813 PennDOT voting-only IDs in the week after Judge Simpson's decision and 654 Department of State voting IDs.)

Critics of the voter ID measure at the Committee of Seventy -- a nonpartisan good government group -- quibble with the state's messages. While technically correct, they are probably confusing for some voters, Ms. Kaplan said.

"We are not educating voters on continuing to go to PennDOT and getting ID for Nov. 6. Our message is you do not need voter ID. ... It's important voters get a clear, consistent message," she said.

Fellow critics of the measure at the AFL-CIO's political action committee are more blunt. The union umbrella group unveiled a new website called DoINeedAnIDtoVoteinPA.com. It consists of a single page with a giant "NO!"

Identification, but not necessarily photo identification, is required from first-time voters or those changing polling places.



Source: (c)2012 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Distributed by MCT Information Services


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