News Column

Pa. Dems' Voter ID Outreach Goes Into Full Swing

Aug. 17, 2012

Tim McNulty and Laura Olson

constitution

Pennsylvania Democrats have long claimed that the Republican-supported voter ID bill was a bid to deliver the state to Mitt Romney. Now that it has cleared its first legal hurdle, they're working to ensure that the law doesn't have that effect.

Those party-based efforts -- focused on identifying and assisting voters who lack ID cards -- are occurring alongside a continued ramp-up of state outreach work, which will include a full slate of community events, links on public library computers to information on ID requirements, and television ads poised to hit airwaves next month.

Meanwhile, the legal battle also is continuing, with the groups that are challenging the statute filing their appeal Thursday afternoon to the state Supreme Court. They are seeking an expedited review, suggesting that oral arguments be held the week of Sept. 10 during the court's session in Philadelphia.

Even before a Commonwealth Court judge decided Wednesday against stopping the law from going into effect in November, state officials had been getting their outreach efforts in place. Several outside firms -- Harrisburg-based Bravo Group and Pittsburgh's Red House Communications -- were hired in July to assist with community work and paid advertising.

"We weren't waiting [for the court decision] because we really couldn't," Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman said.

Radio, television, Web and print ads are in production, seeking to reach target audiences of African-Americans, Hispanics and college students beginning in about three weeks, he said. Print advertising will be primarily in newspapers, although ads also may be posted in buses and trains, aimed at urban riders who are more likely to not have a driver's license.

Late next month, postcards outlining the ID law also will be sent to each household that has a registered voter, estimated to total about 5.9 million.

The Department of State has about $5 million to pay for those efforts, with a little more than $2 million of that total going toward contracts with Bravo and Red House. Much of the rest will be used to purchase air time and print ads.

Mr. Ruman credited Bravo for helping the state agency, which still must manage its other regulatory duties, to set up meetings with community groups. During those sessions, scheduled to be held across the state, department officials take questions and clarify the new rules.

"We're not going to reach millions that way, but we're certainly going to reach thousands," said Mr. Ruman, adding that those attending the community events can, in turn, spread the word to others.

Opponents of Pennsylvania's voter ID law appear to be amplifying those government steps by refocusing on time-consuming efforts to educate voters on how to comply with the law.

They include the United Steelworkers union, which is in the early stages of cross-referencing the state list of 758,000 voters who might not have a PennDOT ID with its own lists of current and retired employees statewide. The USW then will call those on both lists and explain the new law.

"It's pretty labor intensive," said Fred Redmond, USW vice president of human affairs. "We're guns out. We feel very strong about people's votes being counted."

The state's AFL-CIO is knocking on doors across Philadelphia and other parts of the state this week and next to inform voters about the bill, doing so hand in hand with efforts to register new voters before the state's Oct. 9 deadline. The Obama re-election campaign has incorporated voter ID information into its get-out-the-vote and registration for months, and the state Democratic Party is working on similar efforts.

Democrats and supporters, such as those in organized labor, were the loudest critics of the Republican-favored voter ID measure. But now that opponents await an appeal before the state Supreme Court, they are subtly recalibrating their message.

While still opposing the bill, they don't want to be so negative that they scare people away from the polls because of fears that getting an ID will be too cumbersome or the new requirement will make lines oppressively long come Nov. 6.

State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, who is running for auditor general, said "it's clear" that the GOP-supported requirement is an attempt to suppress Democratic votes.

But, he added, "we've been preparing for it -- that if it is the law, we have got to make sure as many of our voters have that eligible ID. And we also have the appropriate legal team at the key voting precincts to make sure that they're not bullied away from their constitutional right to vote."

The attempt at the "remain calm" message is probably best expressed on the Obama re-election campaign's voter education website, gottavote.com, which provides a checklist for Pennsylvania voters of acceptable photo IDs: -- state Department of Transportation IDs; U.S. passports; and military, government, nursing home and Pennsylvania college IDs with expiration dates -- plus instructions on how to obtain them.

"Voting is easy when you have the facts -- no matter where you live," the website's home page states. On another page, it states, "Fact: Voting is incredibly easy for every American."

The AFL-CIO also is trying to strike that balance.

"Confusion is one of the leading forms of voter suppression," said Yuri Beckelman, spokesman for its Pennsylvania political team. "Part of our campaign isn't just getting IDs into people's hands; it's getting them the correct information."

The state Democratic Party also is using the Commonwealth Court decision to raise money. "We already started an aggressive field plan to make sure Pennsylvanians have the IDs they need to vote in November, but it's costly and we need your help," Kevin Washo, the party's executive director, said in an email to supporters Wednesday. "We need to meet our financial goals to run the strongest possible field program to ensure that every Pennsylvania voter has an ID for this critical election."

Party workers are poring over the state's list of possibly affected voters to find those who indeed do not have approved IDs, then plan to follow up by assisting them through the application process.

After Wednesday's ruling, the statements from the state Democratic Party and the Obama re-election campaign both focused on their intentions to ensure that voters are familiar with and prepared for the requirement, which Mr. Ruman said he saw and wants "to applaud them for that."

"Whether you like the law or whether you don't, if your position is you want people to vote, help them get IDs," he said.



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


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