After roughly 19 months on the job, Commonwealth Secretary of State Carol Aichele has the unenviable task of convincing Pennsylvania voters that the Voter ID Law is designed to counter voter fraud, rather than a partisan move that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.
Part of Aichele’s duty is to ensure that every eligible Pennsylvanian voter has the proper identification to vote, and to educate voters on the law – which, she stresses, will not allow any voter from being turned away at the polls without being afforded the opportunity to vote.
Aichele, along with Deputy Secretary Shannon E. Royer, met recently with the Tribune’s editorial board to reaffirm the nature of the law, and to get the word out that voters “may not be turned away from voting.”
“We have $5 million of ‘Help America Vote’ money for education for federal elections, and we would have spent money to educate voters about the election anyhow; we are also using the money to put forward the issue in respect to Voter ID,” Aichele said, listing the ways her office has mobilized for the coming elections. “And $250,000 is being used for non-media events, and the Bravo Group is averaging three events a day, seven days a week, going to community groups, church groups here in the city and across the state, chambers of commerce and rotary clubs.
“Anywhere [local organizations] ask us to go, we’ll send somebody out.”
As it stands, the State Department has worked in conjunction with PennDOT to create special voting purposes-only photo identification cards. To obtain one of these cards, a potential voter must present documentation verifying their name, social security number and any two sorts of utility bills or other such documents that will verify the voters’ address.
Aichele said the common misperception about the controversial Voter ID Law is that, without photo identification, there’s the potential that thousands of voters will not be able to vote. Aichele said no one will be turned away from the polls, as long as they can provide their first name, last name, social security number and produce two pieces of mail that verify their address; a voter will then receive a provisional ballot, which will allow them to cast their vote.
Both Aichele and Shannon seem acutely aware of the partisan overtones of the Voter ID Law, and agreed that recent comments attributed to Pennsylvania Republican Majority Leader Mike Turzai haven’t done much to quell that perception.
“Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation – abortion facility regulations – in 22 years, done,” Turzai said, according to PoliticsPA.com. “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
Further damaging Aichele’s stance is the harshly worded response to the U.S. Department of Justice request for the documentation and other voter information that determined the Voter ID Law in the first place.
Although Aichele says she didn’t write the response, and only became aware of it a few days before the Voter ID Law trial, her name is on the letter and it does lends credence to the critics who believe this law is another way to slant the vote.
Aichele also stood by her claims that more than 99 percent of all eligible Pennsylvanians already have the required photo identification, and that she estimates roughly half a million voters may need to either obtain the voter ID card through PennDOT, or will fill out provisional ballots.
When pressed on the merits and timing of the vote, Royer defended the Voter ID Law, noting City Commissioner Al Schmidt’s recent report that there have been more than 700 instances of voter fraud and other irregularities at Philadelphia polling places.
“People voting twice in the same day under different names, non-citizens voting, theoretically, some of them cannot have the types of acceptable identification used to vote; it would stop that kind of fraud,” Royer said. “To suggest that activities don’t occur that voter ID can help prevent is just not true. You have it right here in Philadelphia.
“That is why people have lost confidence in the vote.”
Aichele also said that while there are strict voting policies in place, her office has no enforcement or investigative powers, meaning any suspect activity will have to be dealt with by local law enforcement, along with the District Attorney’s office.
“We are going to try very hard to build confidence, and not withstanding what Mr. Turzai said, it is our intent to make sure that every eligible voter has a photo ID and votes, and we will protect their rights,” Aichele said. “No poll worker can turn them away from a polling place. They cannot be denied the right to vote. It’s their right.
“I’m absolutely certain that if this election is close and there are provisional ballots, that there will be lawyers looking into this very carefully, and I would welcome that.”
Voters with documents before 1990 should call DMV to confirm
State officials have released new guidelines for anyone who had a driver’s license or other state identification issued by PennDOT, even if it’s now expired, and wants a photo ID to vote.
“If you had a Pennsylvania driver’s license, or a non-driver license photo ID, in most cases you will not be required to bring a birth certificate, or any other proof of identification or residence, to request a non-driver photo ID for voting purposes,” said Commonwealth Secretary Carol Aichele, in a statement released Wednesday evening.
Anyone who had a driver’s license or a state ID issued by PennDOT as far back as 1990 can simply go to a licensing center and request an identification card.
“You won’t even need your expired license if you no longer have it,” Aichele said. “You’ll only need to give your name at a PennDOT driver license center, and once you are verified as being in the system, PennDOT will provide you with a non-driver license photo ID, which you can use to vote.”
Individuals who had a license or other ID before 1990 should call 1-800-932-4600 to see if they are in the department of transportation’s computer system.
Individuals applying for the non-driver license photo ID will still need to fill out the application form, Aichele said. They will also have to sign an affirmation they have no other acceptable form of photo ID for voting purposes to receive the non-driver license photo ID free of charge.
Aichele said the new guidelines would streamline the process of getting an acceptable photo identification card especially for senior citizens.
Voters will be required to show a state-approved photo identification to vote in the Nov. 6 general election. Poll workers will begin asking voters for a photo ID on Tuesday, though voters can vote without one.
In November, voters will be required to present a state-approved form of identification or else be forced to vote on a paper ballot and then submit an approved ID by Nov. 12.
The law, passed just last month, has sparked enormous controversy across the state. Critics argue that the law ill disenfranchise older, younger, poorer and minority voters.
Aichele this week said: “No one legally entitled to vote will be denied that right.”
A coalition of more than 70 voting advocacy groups has joined forces across the state in an effort to make sure anyone who needs identification has it. According to state estimates, approximately 1 million Pennsylvanians lack the necessary ID.
One local organizer, who participated in the voter registration drives of the Civil Rights Era, predicted that the law, which many see as an attempt to suppress the vote had galvanized voters and would ultimately have the opposite effect.
“I suspect that by the time our efforts are done, people will be so aware of what’s going on with voter ID that it will probably boost the number of people who come to the polls in November,” said Joseph Certaine, co-convener of the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition.
For a complete list of state-approved forms of identification for voting purposes check out the state Department of State’s website at: www.VotesPA.com, or call 1-877-868-3772.
Reps. Thomas, Waters say bill is burden to voters, poll workers
While mostly Republicans and tea party members hailed Wednesday’s signage of H.B. 934 by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, state Representative W. Curtis Thomas roundly slammed the measure as yet another attempt to stifle voter’s rights.
And according to Thomas, there is a correlation between Corbett’s bill and the upcoming presidential and statewide elections.
“I’d like the supporters of this law to answer this question: why now? How can you in good conscious commit $4 to $11 million in taxpayers’ money to implement this law while cutting millions from education, housing, healthcare, jobs and community economic development?” Thomas said through a statement released by his office. “How can you find money to implement this reprehensible law, but you can’t find money for these areas that effect the necessities of life, especially during these hard economic times?
“This law is reminiscent of old Jim Crow laws and serves no purpose except to suppress the vote in November. Stop putting politics before people.”
Thomas isn’t the only prominent local politician to speak out against the bill. As reported in a recent edition of The Tribune, state Rep. Ron Waters, who leads the Legislative Black Caucus, said “this is nothing more than an attempt by Republicans to keep seniors, minorities and low-income citizens from their constitutional right to vote … Pennsylvania will have the distinction of moving backwards with this discriminatory bill.”
Corbett and other state officials dismiss accusations of trying to rig the vote, saying instead this bill will increase the validity of the vote and curtail voter fraud.
This law will help us preserve the integrity of every vote in Pennsylvania,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele. “No one entitled to vote will be denied that right by this bill, but by preventing those not legally allowed to vote from casting ballots, we will make sure every vote carries the weight it should in deciding elections.”
According to Corbett’s office, a poll suggested that 87 percent of those responding were in favor of the bill, and 99 percent of all eligible voters statewide have the proper identification needed to vote already; the bill passed, 104-88, and is stated to go into effect immediately.
In his statement, Corbett said 31 other states also require some form of official identification; 15 of those require photo ID.
Thomas, like his colleague Waters, believes this bill will further encumber the commonwealth with unnecessary expenses, and will also unreasonably burden those doing the grunt-work come election day by forcing election workers to either enforce the policy or risk reprimand themselves.
“Why are you punishing these hardworking people who toil for as much as 15 consecutive hours on Election Day for as little as $100 by subjecting them to possible prosecution if the don’t comply with enforcement?” said Thomas, who also serves as democratic chair of the House Urban Affairs Committee. “This entire scenario is a backhanded assault on the people of the Commonwealth. I hope people remember who supported this law and send them a strong message at the polls in April and November.”
Delaware County Council is alerting residents that they will be required to show an acceptable photo ID, one with an expiration date that is current, to be eligible to vote in the Nov. 6 general election.
The Pennsylvania Voter ID law was enacted in the spring, and there was a soft roll-out for the primary election. Changes in the requirements have been made as recently as July 20 when the Department of State announced the creation of a new card that can be issued to voters who are not able to provide all the documents they would normally need to obtain a photo ID from PennDOT, such as a birth certificate
“This is a significant change in the way that people vote in Pennsylvania and it is our goal to ensure that the voting process is accessible and open to all registered voters,” said County Councilman David White, the Council’s liaison to the Election Bureau and Voter Registration.
“In talking to residents, we recognize that people have questions and we want to be sure that people have the correct information on what constitutes acceptable photo ID, how they obtain a photo ID and how that impacts people who vote by absentee ballot,” said White.
On March 15, Pennsylvania became the 16th state in the nation to require voters to show photo identification at the polls, starting with the November general election.
To prepare voters for the new requirement, the DOS has a special VotesPA section on its website with various FAQ documents that detail the various forms of acceptable ID.
For example, an employee ID issued by a government agency or state institution of higher learning is acceptable if it has an expiration date that is current. Furthermore, a sticker with an expiration date can be affixed to an otherwise acceptable employee ID as long as the sticker is issued by the employer.
Types of acceptable ID must include the person’s name, photograph and an expiration date. This includes a Pa. driver’ license, PennDOT photo ID cards, U.S. passport, U.S. military ID, an ID from an accredited public or private college or university, employee photo ID issued by a government entity, and an ID cards issued by a Pennsylvania care facility or assisted living residents. Note these are only acceptable if they have an expiration date printed on the ID.
A Photo ID is provided by PennDOT for voting purposes if a voter doesn’t already have one. Voters must complete an application plus, to be eligible for a free photo ID, people must complete an affirmation form stating that they do not have a valid ID form and need one for voting purposes.
The new option provided by the Department of State was announced last week when the DOS realized that not all people are able to provide the documents necessary to obtain a photo ID from PennDOT. The new cards provide a safety net for those residents. They will be available at PennDOT’s Drivers License Centers beginning the last week of August.
For more information on the Department of State’s new option, people can visit the VotePA site and read Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele’s announcement from July 20.
“Leading up to the General Election, we will provide information to help residents understand this new law. We plan to conduct outreach to senior centers and through our libraries and human service agencies to ensure that people are informed and can access the necessary identification,” White said. “We don’t want anyone to forgo their right to vote because they can’t access a photo ID.”
Councilman White said senior citizens have already called the Voter Registration and Bureau of Election departments asking about the new law. Many questions are about absentee ballots. There will be new identification requirements for absentee ballots as of November.
Under the new law, voters must provide their driver’s license number, the last four digits of their Social Security number or a copy of an accepted photo ID when applying for an absentee ballot. Voters may provide the identifying information to the county over the phone, by email or mail.
“Our goal is to make this a smooth transition for voters. We are ready to help with your questions,” White said.
The voter ID laws have been facing legal challenges in various states, including Pennsylvania, so it’s important for voters to stay informed throughout the election cycle.
City and independent officials tested the city’s voting machines on Friday morning as the nation gears up for the Nov. 6 presidential election.
“People need to have faith that the result of an election is fair,” said City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who was on hand to observe. “The basis of the whole election is the counting of the votes, and that they should be counted as cast.”
In addition to Singer, the political watchdog group The Committee of Seventy was on hand, as were campaign volunteers.
Typically both parties and both campaigns send volunteers. This year only the Obama campaign sent volunteers: Ellen Zeng and Edson Rafferty. The Romney campaign pulled out of Pennsylvania several weeks ago.
Zeng and Rafferty watch as the machines are explained and sample votes cast. In just a few seconds a technician pulls out the tape that records the votes to make sure they’ve been recorded accurately.
It is a process they repeat throughout the morning, stopping at randomly chosen voting machines.
The city maintains 3,700 voting machines, which are stored in a warehouse in the Northwest section of the city along Wissahickon Avenue. This week the warehouse hummed with activity as workers prepared to deploy the machines - a process that takes upwards of 10 days.
But, the process of readying the machines has taken months. It’s more than just preparing the machines – the ballots have to be drawn up, and then the proper ballot has to be placed in the correct machine.
“The level and quality of proofreading and detail checking is really astounding,” Singer said.
It’s a complex process with lots of checking and rechecking – it’s less arduous during a presidential election, because ballots throughout the city are largely the same. That is not always the case.
“The whole process takes months, and then you have to check each machine,” she said. “It’s a thorough logic and accuracy test.”
Obama’s volunteers took their task seriously
Rafferty came equipped with a September report from state Secretary of State Carol Aichele that details the series of tests state officials performed on a sample machine before they were certified by the state.
“There have been so many problems with voting machines over the years,” said Rafferty.
From Boston, he is an Obama campaign veteran and worked in Cleveland, Ohio during the 2008 campaign.
Aichele’s report notes past problems, for which Rafferty was particularly vigilant. They included things like making sure the machine properly registered a straight ticket vote and that the tapes were properly recording votes, including write-ins.
This week, Rafferty was particularly concerned about the number deployed at each polling place. There are 1,687 divisions in the city and 900 polling sites. The number of machine varies by site and is determined by the number of registered voters in each division. Aichele’s report notes that the machines used by the city can be expected to process about 350 votes a day.
An elections official told Rafferty that in some precincts that number was more like 900.
“That’s one of things I’m looking at,” he said.
As Rafferty and Zeng continued their inspection, workers started loading machines onto trucks.
“We need to get this show on the road,” Rafferty shouted.
General counsel says Department of Justice’s request politically motivated
Recently enacted voter identification laws are the hot-button issue in Pennsylvania and several other states. These laws, touted by supporters as a necessary action against voter fraud, are labeled by opponents as thinly disguised voter suppression.
The latest move by the Corbett administration to keep Pennsylvania’s voter ID law in place is a response by his general counsel, James Schultz, refusing to comply with a United States Department of Justice request for a lengthy list of documents that could support the contention that the voter ID law is discriminatory. In response, Schultz suggests that the DOJ request is politically motivated and “unprecedented,” while simultaneously suggesting the DOJ should instead reopen the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case of 2008. Schultz also wrote that unlike the petitioners in the Commonwealth Court litigation, the DOJ has no authority to request or compel the production of the requested information.
“With respect to your letter, I am constrained to note the lack of authority for the Department of Justice’s unprecedented attempt to compel the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to produce information concerning compliance with Section 2 of the VRA (Voting Rights Act), or other federal laws relating to voting,” Schultz wrote. “In light of the absence of authority for your request for information, I question whether your inquiry is truly motivated by a desire to assess compliance with federal voting rights laws, or rather is fueled by political motivation. Ironically, this renders your inquiry subject to the same criticism that opponents of Pennsylvania’s voter identification law have lodged in questioning its merit.”
Schultz then added that any questions regarding the law were answered by Judge Robert Simpson last week. Simpson upheld the new law and stated his reasons in a 70-page opinion. Simpson’s decision is now being appealed before the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court.
In Schultz’s letter, dated Friday, August 17, Schultz said that the Department of Justice has made Pennsylvania the latest state targeted over legislation meant to ensure the integrity of the voting process by eliminating the possibility of voter fraud. An integrity, which the Commonwealth itself pointed out, hasn’t really been assaulted.
“This law was rushed through the House and the State Senate,” said Philadelphia NAACP President J. Whyatt Mondesire at a press conference following Simpson’s ruling.
State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams said he found Simpson’s ruling not only disheartening but disturbing.
“Judge Simpson seemed to signify that he’s more interested in potential hardships on the state than on voters, that he wasn’t ‘convinced any qualified elector need be disenfranchised’ by this law. In his opinion, this law ‘imposes only a limited burden on voters’ rights,’” Williams said.
“Any burden, even one instance of voter disenfranchisement, is a blemish on the Constitution that we all claim to hold dear. If one looks at the body of law, it has always been about inclusion, making sure it’s easier for people participate. This ruling effectively says that in this country, in this state, where democracy as we know it and have revered it was born, some people just don’t count. As an American, that’s disheartening — and disturbing.”
The Department of Justice has managed to block similar laws in Texas and South Carolina. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a voter identification law in the state of Indiana.
In July, Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez wrote to Carol Aichele, secretary of the Commonwealth, requesting information regarding the state’s compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In short, Section 2 prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race or color. Discrimination in voting applies to any voting standard, practice, or procedures that result in the denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen to vote on account of race or color. Perez then requested, among other documents, the complete state voter registration list and the driver’s license and state personal identification card list.
Commonwealth officials formally acknowledged in a stipulation agreement that there’s been no reported in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania, and there isn’t likely to be in November. The agreement also stated that Pennsylvania will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania.
“To say I’m disappointed, even disgusted, would be a considerable understatement. The slow erosion of rights never bodes well for a society’s health, and that’s evident throughout history. Today, law-abiding citizens have been told that in order for them to exercise what is supposed to be their constitutionally-guaranteed rights, they will have to spend extra money and time — then hope for the best,” Williams said.
It’s difficult to say what impact the state’s controversial Voter ID Law had on Tuesday’s vote, but according to the political watchdog group Committee of Seventy, the law has angered an appreciable amount of voters.
“Whatever we have heard is anecdotal, not scientific, but the Voter ID Law definitely caused a great deal of confusion around the vote,” said Committee of Seventy President and CEO Zack Stalberg, noting that Committee of Seventy workers conducted several exit polls around the voter ID issue. “There were poll workers who didn’t understand the rules, and a percentage of poll workers who intentionally came down too harshly [on potential voters] and used the voter ID issue as a way to annoy voters and drive them away.
“I would say there are examples of people who couldn’t vote because they didn’t have proper ID, although there was no voter ID necessary in this election.”
According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, for the 2012 general elections, voters would be asked to show an acceptable form of photo identification — but not having it wasn’t supposed to preclude people from voting.
Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Carol Aichele, who has visited outposts throughout the state to inform voters on the nuances of the law, said before Election Day she supports the implementation of the law.
“The streamlined process put in place by the Corbett administration to help all voters get IDs would have allowed all voters to have acceptable ID by November. However, the judge had concerns about this, and thus the same procedure will be in effect for this election as for the spring primary, in that voters will be requested to show ID, but ID will not be required to vote,” Aichele said when Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson’s decision became public. “We will continue our education and outreach efforts, as directed by the judge in his order, to let Pennsylvanians know the voter ID law is still on track to be fully implemented for future elections, and we urge all registered voters to make sure they have acceptable ID.
“This law is designed to preserve the integrity of every vote by doing what we can to make sure each voter is who they claim to be at the polls, and we are confident this law will be fully implemented in future elections.’’
Reached after the elections, Aichele said she, too, has heard spot stories of voters being turned away due to voter ID misinformation, including the majority of voters in Crawford County, where election officials put up a sign reading voter ID is mandatory. But Aichele chalked it up to poll workers’ unfamiliarity with the law, rather than a malicious act.
“Clearly there were people still uncomfortable about showing ID when they vote. There were people unhappy with it, and to deny that was true would be futile,” Aichele said. “People were unhappy and some refused to show ID, but every polling place had instructions for voters on where they could get ID.
“The Department of State heard of some issues statewide,” Aichele continued, noting issues as simple as signs at schools saying ID is necessary to enter, but referred instead to the students entering the building for instruction, and not for adults coming in to vote. “If I were to do this over again, there were hundreds of thousands of first-time voters, and in my opinion, we didn’t get the message out to them soon enough.
“But I don’t think the Voter ID Law and the soft rollout here made any difference in the vote.”
But that the Voter ID law negatively affected even a handful of voters was enough to give Stalberg pause.
“There’s no question that it angered voters. There were unpleasant words exchanged in a lot of polling places between polling officials expected to ask people for ID, but it wasn’t required,” Stalberg said. “So many people were offended at being asked.”
Even though the election is over, the controversy surrounding the Voter ID Law will not go away, and Stalberg warned that if voters aren’t sufficiently prepared, we could all be reliving this drama again in the very near future. Simpson is set to make a final ruling of the constitutionality of the Voter ID Law on Dec. 15, and depending on his ruling and the appeals that will surely follow, the voter ID drama could be with Pennsylvania voters for some time.
“Because it’s likely that there will be a photo ID law in Pennsylvania – it seems to be the trend across the country, and the Republicans care about voter ID and are in control in Harrisburg – it’s important that citizens use the next window of time to make sure they have proper voter ID,” Stalberg said. “One pleasant break here is that there are not a lot of key elections in 2013. The District Attorney and City Controller, but those are not real high-profile elections, I don’t think. So people probably have between now and the gubernatorial election in 2014 to solve this problem and make sure they have the right voter ID. I hope they use the time wisely, carve out a few hours and get it done - so that we’re not right back in this problem again of having people wait in long lines a PennDOT offices and the like.
“But assuming the law stands, people should just pick a moment in 2013 to get it done, so they don’t become disenfranchised,” Stalberg continued, noting that voters who have any questions at all can call Committee of Seventy at 215-557-3600. “Especially as we approach the more important elections, such as the one for governor in 2014 and for mayor and city council in 2016.”