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May 20, 2013

Yes and no on voter ID

Photo to be asked for, not required

MERCER COUNTY — After another “dry run” of a voter ID law under legal review, Pennsylvania voters might start chafing.

Even so, Tuesday’s primary will be the third election conducted under a hybrid of the controversial voter ID law approved last year by lawmakers and the election law it was intended to replace.

What that means is that voters will be asked by poll workers to show photo ID but they are not required to produce that or any other ID unless they are new voters or it is their first time voting at the precinct.

In that case, voters are not required to produce a photo ID, as several other forms of ID are also acceptable. They include student ID, government-issued ID, firearm permit, current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or government check. Provisional ballots will be offered to those who don’t have an acceptable ID.

Mercer County Elections Director Jeff Greenburg doesn’t expect any problems locally, but he said last week that voter ID and the legal fight over its implementation has “created the most confusion.”

Poll workers and voters have been practicing following a potential new law while the old law is still being enforced for three elections, Greenburg said.

“Practice is fine,” he said, “but what if the new law is never in place? Is election day the proper forum? I’m not sure the precinct is the place to practice.”

Pennsylvania’s General Assembly approved voter ID in 2012 and questions about its implementation resulted in the first “dry run” of the new system in last year’s spring primary. The law was supposed to be in place for the November 2012 general election, but a legal challenge put it on hold, leading to a second dry run in that election.

The challenge is ongoing, with the latest appeal being heard July 15 by the state’s Commonwealth Court. Whatever that court rules, Greenburg expects the case will be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

While the in-person voting requirements of voter ID are on hold, changes the law made to absentee voting are in place. Absentee voters are now required to provide the last four digits of their Social Security number and if that information is missing or can’t be verified, Greenburg said his office will send out a notice to the absentee voters telling them they have six days to provide the missing information.

Voters who receive a notice can call the elections office to provide the information, Greenburg said.

Absentee ballots were due at the courthouse last week.

Asked to provide a prediction of voter turnout for Tuesday’s primary, Greenburg cringed and offered instead a “fair estimate” of 23 1/2 percent.

That estimate is based on turnout in the last four municipal primaries, though Greenburg said that turnout has been on the downturn since 2005.

Tuesday’s primary covers state, county, local and school board offices. Candidates who win nomination in the primary will appear on the November ballot.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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