While a Commonwealth Court judge decides whether Pennsylvania voters will have to show legal identification at the polls Nov. 6, the state's chief elections official is not taking any chances.
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele has been touring the commonwealth to get the word out that voter ID is a reality and the state is poised to help anyone who wants to vote. At her latest stop, speaking at Penn State's HUBRobeson Center on Wednesday morning, Aichele said she thinks the Voter ID law will stand because all residents have a fair opportunity -- so-called liberal access -- to a legal photo ID.
"Liberal access means that anyone who wants a photo ID can get one," Aichele said. "And now if you go to a licensing center in Pennsylvania ... you have a choice. You can even get a non-driver photo ID."
At issue is whether the new voter ID law provides easy and free access to anyone who wants to vote. The state Supreme Court warned that the commonwealth must comply with the liberal access component to ensure state law is being followed.
If it doesn't, the Supreme Court advised the Commonwealth Court to declare the voter ID law invalid for this year's election. Testimony is expected to resume today, but Judge Robert Simpson warned attorneys Tuesday an injunction might be possible.
The Corbett administration on Tuesday pushed to guarantee that the 71 Department of Transportation photo ID centers were ready and able to comply with the liberal access component before the Commonwealth Court made its final determination, which must come by Oct. 2.
Aichele, who was nominated as commonwealth secretary in January by Gov. Tom Corbett and confirmed by the Senate in April, said criticism that the law deters certain demographics from voting is unwarranted. Those demographics include college students, disabled people or people living in lower-income or impoverished areas and who generally don't have transportation.
"The Supreme Court asked us if we would make it liberal access, and we think the ease of being able to get a driver's license or a (non-driver photo ID) is not a deterrent," she said. "We've had a tremendous amount of volunteers driving people to centers and making sure that they can vote."
Here's how it works: Residents without legal ID can go to a PennDOT photo ID center with documentation such as a birth certificate and receive a free photo ID. Those without documentation can give PennDOT their full name, date of birth and Social Security number, and officials will electronically verify the voter's legality and issue the ID for free.
University campuses have been at the center of the debate, as large numbers of students potentially could be without valid identification. Critics of the measure argue that many students don't have driver's licenses and universities don't produce valid identification. However, Aichele said she's spoken to students at several campuses and was upbeat about what she found: The campuses were proactive in ensuring their student IDs would allow them to vote.
Penn State's student IDs were not legal because commonwealth law mandates identifications must have expiration dates. However, as early as May, university officials began making available stickers for current IDs that included expiration dates. Since the summer, all student ID cards included expiration dates. University Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims said that the university was quick to comply with the new law.
"The university has 96,000 students -- many of whom are eligible to vote," Sims said. "I can't think of any exercise more important for our student population than being engaged citizens in their community."
Penn State students seemed to be largely unfazed by the law, updating their current IDs to ensure they were registered. Drew McGehrin, president of the College Democrats, said he's heard some grumbling.
"We've seen a large amount of students ready to vote," McGehrin said. "It's been quite exciting. There have been many questions regarding regulations, and some criticism, but it goes both ways."
Maggie Quinn, the vice-chairwoman of the College Republicans, said she's fielded similar questions.
"We've had students with questions because of the buzz," she said.
As the case unfolds in Commonwealth Court and in the media, a new poll by Franklin and Marshall College's Center for Opinion Research in Lancaster indicated voters generally are supportive of the photo ID measure.
Fifty-nine percent of registered voters say they are in favor of the new ID law, and 46 percent are strongly in favor, according to the poll. Thirty-nine percent strongly or somewhat oppose the measure. Almost all -- 99 percent -- registered voters said they had the proper identification to vote Nov. 6. The poll of 632 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
Aichele said about 12,000 voter ID cards were issued statewide so far, but roughly 100,000 eligible voters are without a driver's license.
According to the Centre County Voter Registration and Elections, there are 104,411 registered voters in Centre County as of Wednesday. In 2010, that number was 101,714.
The last day to register for the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 9. Polls will be open on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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