In Pa., skir­mishes flare over state voter-id law

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Penn­syl­va­nia’s con­tro­ver­sial photo-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion law isn’t yet in ef­fect, but vot­ers told state of­fi­cials on Elec­tion Day that they were turned away from the polls be­cause they didn’t com­ply with it.

Those re­ports are still un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and haven’t been con­firmed, but civil rights and vot­ing rights groups lam­pooned the state throughout the day and ac­cused Penn­syl­va­nia of­fi­cials of sup­press­ing the vote, par­tic­u­larly in ar­eas with large mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tions.

“This is the fault of the Penn­syl­va­nia state gov­ern­ment. We lay it at their feet that vot­ers are hav­ing so many prob­lems,” said Bar­bara Arn­wine, pres­i­dent and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Lawyers’ Com­mit­tee for Civil Rights Un­der Law, dur­ing an af­ter­noon con­fer­ence call with re­porters. Poll work­ers have been poorly and wrong­fully trained. … That’s wrong. The state of Penn­syl­va­nia ought to be ashamed.”

The Key­stone State has found it­self at the cen­ter of a heated na­tional de­bate over photo iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and voter fraud and was one of about 30 states to try to ad­dress the is­sue in re­cent leg­is­la­tion.

Photo-ID laws have been passed in at least nine states over the past two years, in­clud­ing Penn­syl­va­nia, ac­cord­ing to a tally by the New York Univer­sity School of Law’s Bren­nan Cen­ter for Jus­tice.

The most re­stric­tive forms of those laws — those that al­low vot­ers to cast a bal­lot only if a gov­ern­ment-is­sued photo ID, such as a driver’s li­cense, is shown — are in ef­fect in only four states: Kansas, Ten­nessee, Ge­or­gia and In­di­ana. Kansas and Ten­nessee passed their ID mea­sures re­cently, while In­di­ana and Ge­or­gia have had theirs in place for a num­ber of years.

Penn­syl­va­nia, Wis­con­sin and Texas sought to join those four states in time for the elec­tion, but their ef­forts were blocked in court. In the case of Penn­syl­va­nia, a judge ruled that vot­ers with­out a photo ID sim­ply didn’t have enough time to ac­quire one be­fore Elec­tion Day, putting the leg­is­la­tion on hold un­til 2013 at the ear­li­est.

Penn­syl­va­nia poll work­ers were al­lowed to re­quest photo iden­ti­fi­ca­tion from vot­ers, but had to let them vote if they couldn’t — or wouldn’t — pro­vide it.

St ate off icials

h ave ac­knowl­edged that they re­ceived re­ports of vot­ers in­ac­cu­rately be­ing told they must present a photo ID in or­der to vote.

“We got a few scat­tered re­ports of that. We turn those over to the coun­ties. ... We don’t know what came of them. We don’t know if that ac­tu­ally hap­pened,” said Ron Ru­man, spokesman for the Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of State. “Hope­fully, it wasn’t the case.”

Sup­port­ers of voter IDs in Penn­syl­va­nia and else­where ar­gue that such mea­sures are the only sure­fire way to stop fraud. They point to cases like the “Truth Mon­key” be­ing al­lowed to vote in Vir­ginia de­spite hav­ing his face com­pletely cov­ered by a mask.

“That, in a mi­cro­cosm, is the prob­lem with [cur­rent] ID laws. Some­one can go in with a mask and vote and not be chal­lenged,” said David Al­masi, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Cen­ter for Pub­lic Pol­icy Re­search, which sup­ports stricter voter-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion mea­sures.

“It seems the only rea­son you wouldn’t want to have voter-ID laws in place is if you wanted to make cheat­ing eas­ier,” he said.

Oth­ers dis­agree and ac­cuse states such as Penn­syl­va­nia of want­ing to dis­en­fran­chise mi­nor­ity vot­ers, who, sta­tis­tics show, are much less likely to pos­sess gov­ern­ment-is­sued photo IDs.

For­mer Ver­mont Gov. Howard Dean, a fa­vorite among lib­eral Democrats, took those charges a step fur­ther, say­ing that voter sup­pres­sion and harass­ment were cen­tral to the Repub­li­can strat­egy in key bat­tle­ground states such as Penn­syl­va­nia and Ohio.

“Given the vote and the lead­ing in the polls in Ohio, the only way [Pres­i­dent Obama] can lose is if peo­ple are pre­vented from cast­ing their bal­lots. Ei­ther by vot­ing ma­chines that aren’t func­tion­ing right or other forms of harass­ment,” he said dur­ing an in­ter­view on MSNBC.

EVA RUSSO/ SPE­CIAL TO THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Elec­tion of­fi­cers check vot­ers’ iden­ti­fi­ca­tions at Wash­ing­ton Mill El­e­men­tary School near Alexan­dria, Va. on Nov. 6. Back­ers of strict voter-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion laws claimed that some­one call­ing him­self “Truth Mon­key” was al­lowed to vote in the state de­spite hav­ing his face fully cov­ered by a mask.

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