Inquirer Editorial: Mixed message on voter ID

Posted: October 29, 2012

With all the spin, false claims, and counter-claims, elections are confusing enough. But the on-again, off-again Pennsylvania voter-ID law and the way the state has dealt with it are worse. So much confusion has been created that many voters may not show up at the polls.

This is the outrageous result of bad, partisan-stained legislation bullied through the legislature so fast the Corbett administration had little time to even think about how to implement it.

For the record: Voters do not need a state-sanctioned photo ID to vote in this election.

But for 34,000 city pensioners, 1.3 million Peco customers, 9,000 elderly on the state Department of Aging pharmaceutical assistance mailing list; for anyone who watched the edited state voter-ID commercials or saw their bus placards or Spanish-language billboards - for them confusion rules.

The city and Peco made the best of civic gestures by using their networks to prepare voters for showing photo IDs Nov. 6. But the rules had changed by the time voters were opening their mail. Peco took the next step and sent out a corrective letter to its customers. With some help from the city, the Committee of Seventy is printing literature saying voters don't need a photo ID Nov. 6.

As good as the utility and city government's intentions were, voters have been confused, many of whom live in Philadelphia and its suburbs, a progressively bluer region. The law and others like it in states across the country seem intended to frustrate likely Democratic voters. Those who would have trouble with obtaining the most common photo ID, a driver's license, are the elderly and the young as well as minorities, the poor, and urbanites who don't drive but tend to vote for Democrats.

Any doubts about the partisan nature of this law in Pennsylvania were wiped away by Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, who chest-thumped this summer that photo ID would help Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney win here.

The Department of State, which oversees elections, should be doing more to help voters. Yes, the agency edited a television commercial to reflect Judge Robert E. Simpson's Oct. 2 ruling, which put off enforcement of the restrictive law. But because people do not view television ads carefully, they can get the impression that they must produce a photo ID to vote. The better message would have been to state clearly that photo ID is not required now but could be required in future elections. The state should make up for its mistake by immediately launching an ad campaign telling voters the truth.

No one can know exactly how many voters have been discouraged enough to stay home Election Day. But evidence is mounting that Pennsylvania's honor as the place where modern democracy was born has been tarnished and its citizens disgraced by a law that seeks to frustrate rather than empower voters.

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