The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

October 3, 2012

Voter ID law put off for Nov. 6 election

May not appeal, Corbett says

---- — Local officials are relieved to have avoided problems at the polls next month after a Commonwealth Court judge on Tuesday blocked a new law requiring voters to show a valid photo identification prior to casting a ballot.

The controversial 6-month-old law – often cited as one of the toughest in the nation – has been appealed and changed several times since it was passed and signed by Gov. Tom Corbett without a single Democrat voting for it. Local officials worried that despite outreach efforts, many voters didn’t understand what they needed to show in order to vote.

Chaz Rice, chairman of the Mercer County Democratic Committee, said “the worst-case scenario I could imagine would be for a poll worker to have to tell his neighbor, who he’s known and seen vote for 30 years, that suddenly he can’t vote because he doesn’t have the right piece of paper.

“There’s not a doubt that this was a push by Republicans to squash the votes of the middle- and lower-income classes. And voting is the only way we have to be involved in the process. It’s the only weapon we have,” Rice said.

Supporters of the law, including Rep. Michele Brooks, R-17th District, said while Tuesday’s ruling “delays the hard roll-out for this election” the intent of the law to uphold the integrity of the voting process remains intact. “The state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law,” she said.

Brooks cited a 2008 case in which “a Philadelphia deputy commissioner found 8,000 fraudulent voting forms turned in,” she said.

“The law is to make sure that fraudulent votes don’t cancel out legitimate votes,” Brooks said.

An appeal to the Supreme Court is possible but Corbett said Tuesday he is leaning against further appeal.

State Rep. Mark Longietti, Hermitage, D-7th District, said, “It’s hard to know what people’s motives are until they reveal their motives, but when a major political leader in the Republican party speaks at a state committee meeting and says the law was now in place that would ‘allow Mitt Romney to win Pennsylvania’ I think that showed a motive.”

In addition, access to the PennDOT offices issuing the voter ID card is a problem, Longietti said. Office hours are limited and residents in Mercer County must travel to Mercer.

“I think it’s an unnecessary law. It’s a solution looking for a problem,” he said.

The postponement is “the best of both worlds,” said Jeff Greenburg, Mercer County’s director of elections, who sees the decision as the perfect opportunity to practice “a dry run” Nov.  6 and educate voters about what will be needed next year.

“This way we don’t turn our backs on the law and we also don’t throw away all the effort, time and money that has already been spent on educating voters about this requirement,” he said.

Judge Robert Simpson’s ruling in Commonwealth Court focused on the state’s ability to provide identification quickly to those voters – particularly the elderly and minorities – who may not have current driver’s licenses or other photo identification.

After reading the ruling, Dr. Michael Coulter, a political science professor at Grove City College, said he wasn’t surprised at all with Simpson’s decision.

“The judge isn’t convinced the state can produce enough in time for the General Election,” Coulter said, adding “There was a lack of clarity about the documentation people would need. There was initially one set of things that had to provided, and then it was changed to another.”

Greenburg said poll workers may still be asking voters for identification so that they can continue to educate them about the law. Any registered voter who does not have photo identification can still cast a ballot, he said.

This teaching opportunity for both poll workers and voters is particularly important during a presidential election. “We only had 12,000 people vote in April,” Greenburg said. “We’ll see about 50,000 in November. Face-to-face is the best outreach there is,” he said.

Greenburg has hosted 13 meetings countywide to educate voters about what the law is going to require but turnout has been low. “I average about one person at some meetings and I had zero at the last two,” he said.

The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday. Applicants can pick up a form at post offices or the courthouse, or download a copy from the Internet. Forms must be dropped off or mailed in time to reach the elections office by 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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