Voter ID: For this Election Day, nothing has changed

Posted: November 07, 2012

After months of legal and political drama over Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, here's all you need to know for Election Day: Nothing has changed.

If you've been voting in the same polling place for years - or if you've voted there at least once - you will likely be asked to identify yourself, even if the election judge is your next-door neighbor. You'll probably be asked to show a photo ID. But you'll be allowed to vote whether you have the ID or not, after signing your name in what's called a "poll book," containing all the registration information for voters in your precinct or division.

If you're voting for the first time at a new polling place - after moving your residence or registering to vote for the first time - you will be required to show some form of ID, but the options are flexible. You can provide a government-issued photo ID, like a driver's license, a student or employee photo ID card, or non-photo ID with your name and address, like a utility bill, bank statement, or paycheck.

The rules in New Jersey and Delaware are substantially the same: State officials advise voters to bring identification with them to the polls, but it's not the limited selection included in Pennsylvania's temporarily suspended voter-ID law. In New Jersey, voters can provide anything from a state driver's license to a CVS membership card or a rent receipt.

"Ninety or 95 percent pull out their driver's license, but it doesn't have to be a photo ID," said Delaware Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove. "If they don't show an ID, they have to sign an affidavit saying they are who they say they are. . . . We hope that doesn't happen very much. We're concerned about lines of voters backing up."

Pennsylvania's more stringent law, pushed through the legislature last March by Republican lawmakers, was suspended for this election by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr., who ruled that there wasn't enough time for every voter who needed ID to get it before the election. So the prior requirement - that voters provide some sort of ID the first time they go to a polling place, but not on subsequent visits - remains in effect.

In spite of the relatively simple requirements, nonpartisan groups that deal with voting rights are still concerned that Pennsylvania could be an Election Day battleground on the voting-rights front.

In conference calls Monday with reporters, various organizations complained about the state's voter-education efforts, which continued to urge voters to obtain photo ID even after Simpson had suspended the requirement, and voiced concern about potential intimidation at polling places.

Pennsylvania was among six Republican-controlled states where new voter-ID laws were passed to take effect with the presidential election, according to Eric Marshall, an attorney with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The laws remain in place in Tennessee and Kansas. In Texas, South Carolina, and Wisconsin, as in Pennsylvania, the changes were blocked or delayed by legal action.

Marshall said his organization had committed $20,000 to robocalls to advise Pennsylvania voters, primarily in minority neighborhoods, that the voter-ID requirements had been suspended, filling what he called "a void" in the state's voter-education efforts.

"The laws were struck down, but the confusion remains," said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. "We've heard reports and see evidence that voters still are confused and are not clear about what their rights are, what kind of identification they need to bring, and about whether they can vote."

Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, said state election officials had not seen much evidence of confusion.

"We've had a few calls into our toll-free number the last few weeks, literally a few handfuls from across the state," Ruman said.

He dismissed occasional instances of state postcards arriving in mailboxes with outdated voter-ID information. "We sent those postcards out from Sept. 17 to 24," Ruman said. "I guess there could be one or two arriving six weeks late, but it's hard to imagine that's happening in any numbers."

Organizations including Common Cause, the Pennsylvania ACLU, the lawyers' committee, and the Advancement Project sent a letter Monday to Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general in charge of the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, alleging that the Republican Party had assigned poll watchers trained by the Pittsburgh Tea Party Movement to a number of predominantly African American precincts in Allegheny County.

Patti Weaver, who described herself as founder of the Pittsburgh Tea Party Movement, said the Republicans had provided poll watcher certificates to volunteers "to go to those locations where voter fraud has been reported in the past and areas where there have been statistical inconsistencies with vote results."

"They're going to be there legally, and we've gone over the rules," Weaver said. "They've been trained to look for certain things, like who's allowed to go behind the voting booth. . . . They're law-abiding citizens and they're probably not going to do more than sit there and watch."

The training was provided by Bob Howard, a retired finance executive and former president of the North Allegheny School District. He estimated the number of volunteer poll watchers at several dozen, and said there was no effort to intimidate anyone.

"Our goal . . . is to have a fair and honest election," Howard said in a telephone interview. "We don't want them to be part of any confrontation. They're there to be part of the system."


Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Joelle Farrell contributed to this article.

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