Pa. to continue rolling out voter ID ads

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HARRISBURG -- When a judge in August extended the temporary suspension of Pennsylvania's requirement that nearly all voters show photo ID at the polls, he said the state could continue advertising about the law.

Now, Senate Democrats are asking the Corbett administration to take down ads they say will lead voters to believe -- incorrectly -- that they must show identification to vote in the municipal and judicial elections next month.

The campaign, which began Sept. 30 and will cost $1 million, includes statewide television and radio spots along with ads online and in Spanish-language and African-American newspapers, according to the Department of State. The television spot is largely identical to that shown last year, although it contains minor tweaks, such as telling voters they may be able to get a free ID even if they were unable to do so in the past.

The ad is accurate in saying that voters in November may be asked, although not required, to show photo identification. But a group of Senate Democrats Wednesday said the sequence, which features actors reciting the words "show it" while displaying various forms of identification, could leave voters with the wrong idea.

"If you happen to only catch that portion of the ad, then you're going to very clearly assume that you need to show your photo identification in order to vote on November 5th," said Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon.

Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the Department of State, said the ads will let voters know what will happen at the polls and that they can get a free ID at Department of Transportation license centers.

"We're accurately reflecting what the law is, and the judge's ruling indicated the education should continue," he said.

The lawsuit contesting the requirement is in the hands of Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley, who heard days of testimony this summer about the number of people lacking acceptable identification and the process of obtaining a free ID. Critics of the law say it would suppress voting by the poor, minorities and the elderly.

Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and an attorney for the challengers, said the current advertising could be unclear to voters. "It's at best confusing and at worst misleading," he said.

The Department of State has an additional $1 million budgeted for advertising. Mr. Ruman said the agency plans to hold onto the money to see how the case is resolved.

neigh_city - electionspa

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141. First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM


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