Voter ID ruling hailed by GOP, decried by Democrats

Posted: August 16, 2012

Just as they fought in March, when Gov. Corbett and Republican lawmakers created the state's new voter ID requirements, the state's leading political figures clashed Wednesday over a Commonwealth Court opinion that would leave the law in place for the November election.

"It's a ruling that ultimately supports the will of the majority of Pennsylvanians, who support commonsense voter ID," said State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the Western Pennsylvania Republican who championed the photo-ID requirement.

"I think we're on track to make sure that we re-instill integrity in our election process," Metcalfe said. Last month, he described Philadelphia as "one of our nation's most infested epicenters for rampant election fraud and corruption."

Democrats decried the ruling by Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr., calling it a threat to civil rights and supporting an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell called it "an astoundingly bad decision," questioning the ability of the state Transportation Department to deliver a new form of voter ID that state officials announced just before Simpson opened hearings in the case.

"This is going to be a catastrophe if it's upheld by the Supreme Court," said State Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery), who proposed a repeal of the law after state election officials initially produced a list of 758,000 Pennsylvania voters without PennDot identification.

An Inquirer analysis suggested the figure was wildly inflated, leaving authorities with no real idea how many voters may be affected by the new law.

Groups representing senior citizens, organized labor, and black clergy joined criticism of the court decision Wednesday, but vowed to put hundreds of volunteers to work helping registered voters get whatever documentation they needed.

"We know that senior citizens and older voters are disproportionately affected, hundreds of thousands across the commonwealth," said Karen C. Buck, executive director of the SeniorLAW Center in Philadelphia. "There are thousands who don't know about the law and thousands who think they have valid ID, and they don't."

Zack Stalberg, president of the Philadelphia-based Committee of Seventy, urged anyone with any questions about the new requirements to contact the Voter ID Coalition, a collection of 145 agencies statewide organized to help voters with the new law.

The coalition can be reached by telephone at 866-OURVOTE (866-687-8683) during weekday business hours. More details are available at the Committee of Seventy website, www.seventy.org.

"If they place the call, we can get help to them," Stalberg said - if necessary, even arranging for transportation and assistance to get potential voters to PennDot licensing centers.

John Jordan, director of civic engagement for the state NAACP, said the organization has 43 branches and was working with local clergy to extend its resources statewide.

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the city Democratic Party chairman, said the party organization would mobilize buses, if necessary, to take people to PennDot for required IDs.

"We're not going to let this law hurt us," Brady said. "We're going to follow the law, if it is not reversed, but will not let anyone be disenfranchised."

County election officials throughout the state will have to find money for the training, printing, and mailing costs associated with the new law - expenses estimated at more than $10 million statewide, according to Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner.

Philadelphia's city commissioners had asked the Nutter administration and City Council for $433,000 to implement the new law, but none of the money was included in the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The city's Republican commissioner, Al Schmidt, said the commissioners would "have to stretch our budget" to meet whatever expenses were necessary. "It's our job to implement the law," he said.

The court decision, said Commission Chair Stephanie Singer, "means that our hopes of even delaying the law have decreased to extremely slim."


Contact Bob Warner

at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Amy Worden and Thomas Fitzgerald contributed to this article.

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