News Column

Requests for IDs Bring Voter Complaints

Nov. 6, 2012

Tracy Jordan, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)

Polling place. File photo.
Polling place. File photo.

Voters in Pennsynvania's Lehigh Valley and across the state are running head-first with the remnants of a storm and it's not Hurricane Sandy. It's a political storm created by Pennsylvania's Voter ID law.

In October, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson blocked Pennsylvania's controversial tough voter-identification law from taking full effect during the November election.

As a result, voters will be asked for a proper photo ID at the polls, but still will be allowed to vote without it.

But some voters are saying poll workers are going too far.

In Catasauqua, Sean Redding, 29, said he and his wife were subjected to a rude worker who repeatedly kept saying, "I am required by law to ask you for your ID."

Redding said he objected because he knows the law not only does not require poll workers to ask for identification, it also does not require voters to show it.

"You could see it in her eyes that she knows darn well she's wrong," Redding. "They're doing everything in their power to not let you in to vote if you don't show them ID. They're very nasty about it too."

The only exception is new voters. Any voter casting a ballot in a new district will be required to produce identification.

Lehigh County Election Board Chief Clerk Tim Benyo said poll workers are following instructions from the Pennsylvania Department of State, which instructed poll workers to ask for identification as a test run to see what would happen if there was a voter identification law.

Benyo said the request for identification is supposed to occur when individual voters sign the poll books, not before, he said. However, he also noted that each polling station is headed by a judge of elections, whom the voters elected. As an elected official, the judge has discretion on how to operate their polling place.

"Every polling place is different, and every judge is different," Benyo said. "How they do that job is not necessarily spelled out for them... We suggest how they do it... (But) it's up to them."

By mid-morning, Benyo said he had not heard of anyone being denied the right to vote -- though he had received numerous complaints about identification. Some people complained about being asked for identification while other complained because they weren't asked, he said.

Redding said he and his wife finally voted, but only because of their strong insistence. He said other voters might turn around instead.

A Lower Macungie Township voter said she also received a cold reception when she exercised her right not to show identification, but it seemed all the other voters waiting in line cooperated when they were told to have their identification ready.

Despite reports of a few polling standoffs over showing identification, voters expressed excitement about voting in this presidential election. Turnout was heavy at many polling places.

"It seems that everyone really wants to make their vote count this year compared to other years," said Bob Hassay, who waited in line with his wife, Mary, at East Hills Middle School in Bethlehem.

Although Mary Hassay said the request to show identification seemed to be slowing down the voting process, Christina Cardinal, 25, of Bethlehem, didn't mind waiting nearly an hour to vote.

"I was very excited to see it," Cardinal said. "I'm glad that I had a long line to wait in because people fought very hard so that I could stand in one."

Kettely Artis, 39, waited in line next to Cardinal to vote for the first time since becoming a U.S. citizen earlier this year. Artis, a native of Haiti, said, "It was a good experience."

Weather should not be too much of a factor in Pennsylvania, most of which has recovered from Hurricane Sandy power outages. Despite fears the storm would require southeastern Pennsylvania counties to relocate dozens of polling places, only a handful relocated in the Lehigh Valley region.

In Riegelsville, the polls were moved from borough hall to the Riegelsville Fire Company where volunteers had been serving hundreds of hot meals a day. The election machines were moved Monday just hours before power was restored to the small Bucks County borough along the Delaware River.

Volunteer Kathie Weiss said she did not expect the move to alter voter turnout.

"Most people are local. They can walk to come here," Weiss said.

The early strong turnout supports recent surveys indicating high interest and close races between the presidential candidates as well as several key state and legislative races. Long-time poll workers, however, said the lines were not unusual for a presidential race and did not seem nearly as long as they were four years ago.

A few Republicans working the polls in Allentown said lower turnouts would likely bode well for their party and Romney Since Republicans tend to be more loyal voters, they figure a lower turnout means fewer Democrats are voting for Obama.

On College Hill in Easton, nearly all the voters at the College Hill Presbyterian Church seemed to be Obama supporters.

"he's doing more for the people than anyone else is doing," said retiree Quincy Clarke. "they say he put the country in the hole. It wasn't him. He stepped into this mess."

The economy has been cited as the chief concern among voters heading to the polls.

Despite the high interest in the country's recovery and the election, polls across the Lehigh Valley were surprisingly absent of the usual armies of campaign workers handing out ballot cards.

At the Jewish Community Center in Allentown, the only person standing outside the voting precinct asking for a vote was Mike Schlossberg -- a Democrat running unopposed for state representative.

The polls close at 8 p.m.

-- Morning Call reporters Tracy Jordan, Manuel Gamiz Jr., Scott Kraus, Sam Kennedy and Riley Yates contributed to this report.



Source: (c)2012 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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