Groups ask judge to stop outdated Pa. voter-ID mailings

Posted: October 21, 2012

HARRISBURG - The American Civil Liberties Union and other foes of Pennsylvania's voter-ID law are asking a judge to order state officials to stop distributing what they call false and misleading information about the law's role in the Nov. 6 election.

The request filed Friday followed reports from voters and newspapers about mailings from state and nongovernment entities that contained outdated information about the law.

Earlier this month, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. blocked the law from taking full effect until after the Nov. 6 election. Simpson ruled that poll workers on Nov. 6 can ask voters for photo ID - but if voters do not have one, they still will be allowed to vote that day.

In the legal filing Friday, the ACLU and other groups contended that in the weeks since Simpson's decision, the state had been circulating misinformation about the law.

Asked to respond, Department of State officials said that they learned about the ACLU's filing late Friday afternoon, and that they were still reviewing it.

"All I can say at this time is our lawyers are reviewing it and we will respond in court," said Ron Ruman, spokesman for the department, which oversees elections.

The ACLU and its partners noted in their filing that thousands of Pennsylvania seniors had received a mailing from PACE/PACENET, the prescription program administered by the state Department of Aging, that included cards stating that photo identification was required on Election Day.

The filing also noted the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's report that several Pennsylvania Department of Transportation locations were displaying outdated posters and information telling people they needed photo ID to vote; and that Peco Energy, as The Inquirer reported last week, had distributed erroneous voter-ID information in a mailing to 1.3 million customers in the Philadelphia area.

The lawyers noted that Peco realized its mistake and put out a corrective mailing the next day. In contrast, they contended the state had done little to counter the message it had sent in the blitz of television and radio ads, as well as ads on mass transit, that warned voters of the need for photo ID at the polls. That was before Simpson blocked enforcement of the law.

"The radio silence from the commonwealth about the abrupt change in voting requirements . . . and the failure to affirmatively correct six months of what is now false information about the need to have photo ID on Nov. 6 is indefensible, and reasonably likely to disenfranchise voters without photo ID who have been led to believe they cannot vote and thus are likely not to bother trying," the lawyers said in their filing.

The groups asked Simpson to halt dissemination of any misleading information, and to have the state spell out in new ads that photo ID is not necessary to vote Nov. 6.

The state has yet to definitively say whether it will appeal Simpson's ruling to the state Supreme Court, even though lawyers involved in the case have noted that the legal clock to effectively do so before next month's election has all but run out.


Contact Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934, acouloumbis@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @AngelasInk.

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