New Castle News

Columns

July 29, 2012

John K. Manna: State should consider delay in Voter ID implementation

NEW CASTLE — Perhaps Pennsylvania should delay implementation of the state’s new voter identification law.

I’m not saying it should, but as questions and concerns abound, plus the law facing a court challenge, objective observers have to wonder whether the state is rushing things.

Earlier this month, political scientist G. Terry Madonna and political analyst Michael Young, nonpartisan observers of Pennsylvania politics, were highly critical of the law.

They concluded that the law was not “well thought out, planned or executed.”

They suggest suspending implementation until an election or two of trial runs showing how the law works and its effects.

“Rolling it out in the middle of a presidential contest is sheer folly.”

As it stands now, voters will have to provide some form of government photo ID at the Nov. 6 election to be eligible to vote.

A few weeks ago the Pennsylvania Department of State reported that 9 percent of the state’s registered voters do not have ID cards issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. For Lawrence County, the figure is 10.5 percent.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have some form of government ID, but that they don’t have one issued by PennDOT.

This week a University of Washington political scientist testified in Commonwealth Court that about 14 percent of eligible voters lack a valid photo ID. The judge hearing the case challenging the law said he plans to make a decision by mid-August.

For those who don’t have a valid ID, the Corbett administration and legislators who supported the law argue that people can simply go to their nearest PennDOT drivers license center.

However, the law requires residents to provide a birth cirtificate to acquire such an ID. But last week, the state department relaxed the rule somewhat, saying it will create a new card for those who need a photo ID.

These cards — to be ready the last week of August — will be available to those who cannot provide all necessary documents, such as a birth certificate. They will need to provide two proofs of residence plus their date of birth and Social Security number.

For Pennsylvania-born residents, however, PennDOT will continue to use a process of confirming birth records electronically. Apparently, residents born out of state don’t have to go through this process. The obvious question is why Pennsylvania natives and non-natives are treated differently.

With the state changing the rules as time moves on, a case can be made to delay implementation. Plus, there is an argument to be made as to whether thousands of voters will have enough time to acquire valid IDs before the election.

Will the courts consider such questions? Even if they don’t, they will be the ultimate decision-maker on whether Pennsylvania’s voters are ready for this law.

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