Inquirer Editorial: Campaign of confusion

Guerrilla advertising on a vehicle parked in South Philadelphia last fall noted that the voter-ID law was on hold.
Guerrilla advertising on a vehicle parked in South Philadelphia last fall noted that the voter-ID law was on hold. (TOM GRALISH / Staff)
Posted: October 29, 2013

In its relentless effort to justify the boondoggle that is Pennsylvania's voter-ID law, the Corbett administration is wasting $1 million in taxpayer funds on a media blitz that at best will annoy voters and at worst will disenfranchise them.

This is happening even though Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley, who is considering a challenge to the voter-ID law, ruled in August that it would not apply to the Nov. 5 election. Nonetheless, the voter-ID ideologues have produced a 30-second television commercial that's confusing enough to create the mistaken impression that official photo identification will be required to vote next week. At one point in the ad, an announcer says voters won't need an ID but then abruptly goes on to explain how to get one.

Proponents of the law, enacted in March 2012, say they want to wipe out voter fraud. But the voter impersonation the law would prevent is so uncommon that the state was unable to produce a single verified case of it. That doesn't mean it never happens, but it does mean that this approach to preventing it is like using a wrecking ball to kill a gnat.

Democrats have criticized the law as an unnecessary obstacle designed to hamper their likely supporters, including the elderly, minorities, students, and people with disabilities. About 500,000 Pennsylvanians could be denied the right to vote if the law goes into effect.

During a three-week trial this summer, those challenging the law pointed to numerous instances of legitimately registered voters being needlessly hindered. A Beaver County woman testified that her daughter had to take her on a 2 1/2-hour round trip to get a qualifying ID, only to be forced to make several repeat trips. A Berks County woman had so much trouble getting an ID that she gave up.

State workers admitted sending out inaccurate information about where and when individuals could get photo IDs. Internal memos showed bureaucrats so concerned that elderly voters wouldn't be able to get IDs that they suggested letting them all vote with absentee ballots.

And now, rather than letting people vote in peace while the law is on hold, the administration is responding with an ad campaign that's bound to keep the confusion going.

Soon after the legislature passed the voter-ID bill last year, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) famously admitted that it was intended to help Republican Mitt Romney carry Pennsylvania in the presidential election. Fortunately, the courts kept the law from being implemented in November.

Gov. Corbett's own reelection bid will culminate next fall, and polls indicate he is in trouble. He could help himself out of it by asking the legislature to repeal this cynical law. State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) has already introduced a bill to do just that.

Instead of voter ID, Corbett should be focusing on properly funding education and transportation and shoring up the state's economy. Meeting those challenges is harder than confusing voters, but it's more worthwhile.

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