Some poll workers ask for voter identification, others don’t

Pennsylvania's voter identification law is still being litigated in the courts and only first-time voters have to provide proper ID -- but the state instructed poll workers Tuesday to ask all voters for proof of identity anyway.

Not that voters had to give it, because the law is not in effect, but many dutifully brandished their photo IDs, according to officials at a variety of polling places in Pittsburgh.

At some sites, such as the senior center at Brighton Road and North Avenue in the North Side, the subject never came up.

But at the Centre Avenue YMCA polling place in the Hill District, poll worker Rosalynn Winfield said she asked everyone for voter identification, and most produced it, "although one young man had an attitude. He said 'You're not supposed to ask me that' and I told him I was allowed to ask -- and he had [his driver's license] in his hand anyway."

Ms. Winfield said she supports the voter ID law.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with asking people for identification," she said, adding that she didn't think it would keep minorities from voting.

The same was true at a polling place at the Wesley Church in the Hill District's Ward 5, according to Benjamin Perrin, another poll worker, who said no one refused to show their photo ID, "but you've got to understand, the folks who have been coming here to vote for the past two elections have been well-trained about identification, so they show up here pretty prepared."

Nonetheless, he predicted a turnout rate of about 10 percent -- perhaps little more than 30 people -- out of 383 registered in the ward's 12th voting district. That may be because the district's City Council member R. Daniel Lavelle was unopposed for re-election.

But in City Council's 7th District, where a fierce battle was being waged between Deb Gross and Tony Ceoffe, poll workers were asking voters for ID at the John F. Murray Funeral Home in Lawrenceville. There were no refusals to show ID.

"About half of them were young people, and they all offered up their driver's licenses," said Mike Williams, judge of elections.

In 2012, a presidential election year, "voters were a lot more militant about it," he added.

That year, voter identification laws became a national campaign issue after being enacted in Pennsylvania and in more than a dozen other states with Republican governors and legislatures. Republicans argued they were needed to protect against voter fraud, while Democrats called the laws voter suppression, because poor, minority and elderly voters -- more likely to be Democrats -- might not be able to get access to proper identification.

The state Supreme Court ruled last year before the November election that the state's law should be argued in Commonwealth Court to determine how many voters would be disenfranchised. The trial has been ongoing, but Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley has yet to issue a ruling. In the interim, voters aren't required to produce photo identification.

While some of Lawrenceville's younger residents had no problem producing their driver's licenses this year, Matt Gebis, a barista at the Espresso a Mano coffee shop on Butler Street, vowed resistance.

"I'll be voting after work in Polish Hill, and if they ask me for it, I will object in the strongest terms," said Mr. Gebis, 30.

East of the city, in Churchill, Judge of Elections Judy Diorio said it was a "non-issue" in the 1st District and that every voter brought a license or photo ID.

"It was very much in jest, that they would present [their ID] or say, 'I refuse,' because we've lived next to these people for years, so there's no question about their identity," she said.

Gov. Tom Corbett's administration spent $5 million in federal money last year on education about the law, and $1 million this fall in advertising to encourage voters to show photo identification at the polls, noting that the Commonwealth Court judge ruled that education could continue.

Earlier television ads had said voters would be required to show an acceptable photo ID with a valid expiration date, but in August, the judge ruled that the state must allow voters to cast ballots without photo identification while the case proceeds. The newer ads, which began Sept. 30, still urged voters to get photo IDs but also say that voters will be asked but not required to produce anything.

By mid-afternoon, the Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan government-watchdog group that monitors elections, had received one call about voter ID from Philadelphia and none from Pittsburgh, said senior policy analyst Patrick Christmas.

"It has been extremely quiet," he said. "Voter turnout just seems to be so low that we don't have too much going on."

The Department of State, which oversees elections, had received calls about voter ID, though spokesman Matthew Keeler said he would describe them as "not complaints so much as people trying to figure out what's going on."

Callers had asked if they are required to show identification and where they could get ID, he said.

First-time voters and voters in a new precinct still have to verify their identity with either government-issued identification or documents like a current utility bill, while free identification is available to registered voters who might not have driver's licenses or other documents.

While Democrats argue that the law is aimed at suppressing voting, supporters argue that in a transient society, registration systems need to identify voters who might be registered in more than one state. One study issued last year by The Pew Center on the States said 24 million voter registrations nationwide are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate, more than 1.8 million deceased people are on the voter rolls and 2.75 million people are registered to vote in more than one state.

Nonetheless, the American Civil Liberties Union has challenged Pennsylvania's law as unconstitutional, noting that the state has yet to produce one instance of voter fraud, and there is a very real possibility that hundreds of thousands of voters without photo ID will be disenfranchised.

Karen Langley and Lexi Belculfine contributed. Mackenzie Carpenter:, 412-263-1949 or on Twitter: @MackenziePG. First Published November 5, 2013 9:19 PM

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