Voter ID fight reveals new option

State could issue document with two proofs of residency

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HARRISBURG -- Dueling parties in the lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania's new voter identification law filed briefs Wednesday that point to a yet-to-be-publicized option that could assist those lacking a birth certificate or Social Security card in casting a ballot.

The state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are suing the state to stop the new law, which requires all voters to show photo identification at their polling site, from taking effect for the November general election.

A Commonwealth Court hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday and is estimated to last between five and seven days.

The ACLU and other opponents argue in their 30-page brief that the state's revised projection on the number of eligible voters lacking photo ID still underestimates how many could be denied their right to vote.

They cite the Corbett administration's figures from earlier this month showing that only 91 percent of the names on the voter registration rolls matched someone in the state Department of Transportation databases.

That means as many as 758,939 voters lack proper identification, although variations in how a person's name is listed in each database -- whether they use their full name or a shortened version, for example -- could account for a portion of that total.

That estimate, the ACLU argues, is too low because it excludes more than 500,000 registered voters who have an expired PennDOT card that would not be accepted by poll workers.

Administration officials defend the law as within the Legislature's authority to regulate elections, and argue that the citizens represented by the ACLU possess adequate ID to vote.

Voters will be required to present photo ID issued by the military, state or federal government at the polls, or from nursing homes and colleges in the state, as long as the IDs carry expiration dates.

Those without an ID card can request one at no charge from a PennDOT license center. Beginning next month, those locations also will issue a new "Department of State voter ID card" to registered voters who know their Social Security number and can provide two documents proving their address, such as a utility bill or lease, according to the state's legal filing.

"If elderly and minority voters do not obtain a photo ID during the entire months of August, September, and October, or during the first two weeks of November, they cannot simply claim that [the new law] foreclosed them from doing so," states the administration brief.

A Department of State spokesman did not return a call Wednesday about the new ID cards.

The commonwealth's brief also cited the outreach efforts being done on the new law. The state has contracted with a Harrisburg-based public relations firm to educate voters, and another contract valued at $1.8 million was announced Wednesday with Pittsburgh's Red House Communications to provide ads and brochures.

Opponents cite a study from a University of Washington professor that they say shows 37 percent of eligible Pennsylvania voters are not aware of the new law and another 13 percent mistakenly believe they have an acceptable ID.

electionspa - state

Harrisburg Bureau Chief Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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