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November 5, 2013

State’s voter ID law still on hold

NEW CASTLE —  For the third consecutive election, poll workers will ask voters to show identification, but for the third time, citizens do not need ID to vote Tuesday.

The state’s controversial voter identification law remains in limbo until an appeals court judge decides whether it’s legal.

With the status of the law in question, a judge has ordered that poll workers must stop telling voters they will need to have identification to vote in future elections.

An American Civil Liberties Union analysis estimated 509,000 would-be voters would be kept from the polls by the photo ID rule. Experts hired by the state questioned some of the ACLU’s calculations. But even if all the objections raised by the state are included, the ACLU’s still estimates that more than 300,000 people would be disenfranchised by the rule.

Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman said the Commonwealth has no alternate estimate. Using the ACLU’s numbers, at best 1-in-18 Pennsylvanians without state-approved photo identification have obtained voter IDs created by the Department of Transportation and Department of State. The Department of Transportation has issued 13,165 IDs, while the Department of State has provided 3,937 IDs, PennDOT spokeswoman Jan McKnight said.

The Department of State is spending $1 million on advertising to encourage those with identification to take it to polling places. A sample television ad on the Department of State web site notes that those without identification can learn how to get suitable ID by calling (877) VOTESPA.

But in last summer’s voter ID trial, a Department of State official conceded the agency has focused its efforts on getting people with identification prepared to take it to the polls, said Vic Walczak, the ACLU’s lead attorney in the lawsuit challenging the voter ID rules. Getting identification for those who lack it has taken a back seat, he said.

The state has made no effort to determine how many people have been showing up to vote with identification. The state also has not tracked complaints from voters who feel like they have been given improper instructions by poll workers, Ruman said.

“The law doesn’t make sense and nothing in the state’s handling of the law has made sense,” Walczak said.

Four states have strict photo identification rules for voters — Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee. Pennsylvania is one of seven states where new strict photo identification rules have been approved by the state legislatures, but have not gone into effect yet because of court challenges. The others are Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Proponents, chiefly Republicans, say the voter identification rules are intended to protect the integrity of the state’s election system.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, notoriously predicted the voter ID law would help Mitt Romney win in Pennsylvania.

“Voters without identification are two-times as like to be Democrats,” Walczak said, adding, the state has yet to demonstrate that there has been a single case of voter impersonation fraud in Pennsylvania.

(Email: jfinnerty@cnhi.com)

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