John Baer: Voter-ID foofaraw for naught?

Posted: September 18, 2012

IT COULD BE bluster, hope or stone-cold truth, but top Democrats insist that the outcome of the presidential race in Pennsylvania won't be affected by the state's new voter-ID law.

Oh, and the state's top election official, a Republican, says the same thing. Actually, she goes further.

Speaking at a charter school outside Pittsburgh last week, Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele said, "I'm expecting - and it would please me to no end if we had - the biggest voter turnout we've ever had in Pennsylvania."

That's a Dickens of a statement. You know - great expectations.

But if she and leading Democrats are right (in her case, even somewhat), then the foofaraw over the law was for naught, and President Obama will carry the state.

He already leads here in current polls. There's like a million more registered Democrats than Republicans. And the state hasn't gone for a GOP presidential candidate since the first George Bush in 1988.

All this, of course, flatly contradicts that oft-repeated assertion that House Republican Leader Mike Turzai offered in June that the new law will "allow" Mitt Romney to win the commonwealth.

But there you have it.

That's where we are after months of harshly partisan and racially tainted charges that requiring voters to have photo ID - which passed the Legislature without one Democratic vote - is a Republican ploy to keep Obama's Philly margin down and "allow" Romney a statewide win.

It looks now like a misplayed ploy.

And as the state Supreme Court considers the law's fate, the caterwauling about the return of Jim Crow, stolen elections and the end of democracy is subsiding.

Maybe that's because nobody really thinks Pennsylvania is in play. Maybe it's because the issue was over-hyped from the start with phony-baloney numbers. Maybe it's because the Obama camp doesn't want to make noise that could set off alarms about long lines and a messy Election Day and deter voters who have ID.

Or maybe outreach and education is working.

State Democratic Chairman Jim Burn says that if the court upholds the law, it won't change things here "because we won't allow it to."

He says "in Philadelphia when we're going door-to-door, we're talking about voter ID and asking to see what photo ID people have to make sure it's valid."

Philly's Democratic chairman, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, says, "We're ready."

He concedes that efforts to comply with the law stretch party resources. But he says that extensive community work is informing voters and poll workers and that a post-election effort is set to assure those without proper ID who vote provisionally can obtain a valid ID within the required seven days.

And although Brady says he's "always concerned about the margin" in Philly, he's no more concerned than in past elections.

Zack Stalberg, who heads the nonpartisan Committee of Seventy, isn't entirely sold on the notion that the law won't have an impact.

"The state's doing a slightly better job," he says, "but there's still a very significant problem of awareness."

The committee is heading up about 175 groups working on outreach, including with phone banks at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683), where Stalberg says it's not unusual to get 150 calls a day.

But he says: "My big fear is there are people out there not making the call . . . but is it 50,000 or 150,000? The scope of the problem is an unknown."

As is its legal resolution.

But I've questioned hype about the law, just as I've questioned its motive. Likely voters are likely to have or easily get photo IDs. Republicans might have overreached, pushing Democrats to more aggressively turn out their vote. And the Inquirer reported over the weekend that the state continues to relax requirements to obtain IDs.

So, after all the anger and division - and probably because of it - it now appears that if the law's upheld, its impact will be small.


Contact John Baer at baerj@phillynews.com. For his recent columns, go to philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at philly.com/BaerGrowls.

|
|
|
|
|