Democrats picture bright side of Pennsylvania voter ID dispute

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Democrats described the Pennsylvania voter ID law that they so strongly oppose as an opportunity as well as a roadblock Wednesday as they predicted a strong turnout in November despite its hurdles.

Several officials also contended that the bill already had sparked a backlash that would end up prodding voters to the polls.

The law, whose fate is before the state Supreme Court after a lower court ruling upholding it, demands that voters supply a photo identification before casting a ballot. Republican sponsors characterize the measure as a straightforward effort to combat voter fraud. Democrats, contending that such fraud is next to nonexistent, view it as a thinly disguised effort at vote suppression.

At a meeting of the Pennsylvania delegation to the party convention here, Will Crossley, the Democratic National Committee's voter protection director, pledged that regardless of the high court decision, Pennsylvania would show up at the polls in big numbers.

"We're going to have the most extraordinary effort that you've ever seen in Pennsylvania," he said. "Regardless of the court's decision we're going to be ready."

He described an outreach program by the Obama campaign to identify potential voters who lack the government approved identification, and help them secure such ID.

Pennsylvania's measure is part of the cascade of voter ID laws enacted across the country in recent years, particularly since 2010, when Republicans achieved their strongest collective position in state Legislatures in decades with the GOP's off-year sweep of offices up and down the ballot.

Mr. Crossley acknowledged that, from a Democratic point of view, there had been little good news on the voter law front in recent years. But he pointed to a handful of developments over the summer that he viewed as positive for the party.

He noted that courts had struck down key provisions of controversial voter laws recently in Florida, Texas and Ohio. In Ohio, election officials had tried to restrict early voting to military voters in the last weekend before the election, a period that saw roughly 100,000 votes cast across the traditional swing state in 2008. While the ruling is under appeal, a court accepted the Obama campaign's contention that the early voting window should be opened for all voters.

The DNC official also hit back at Republican charges that Democrats were somehow trying to curb military voting rights through their suit. He said that nothing in the complaint would have infringed on military voters; rather, it sought to extend the same treatment to all voters.

Democratic officials from across Pennsylvania said the GOP-sponsored measure could provide a new incentive for voters who feel that Republicans are trying to disenfranchise them.

"I truly believe there's going to be a backlash," said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, citing "anger over people trying to take away the right to vote."

Sen. Vincent Hughes, who holds a seat based in west Philadelphia, said his constituents were "very angry" over the new law. He described an African-American congregation in his district where on a recent Sunday, the pastor made congregants show an ID before entering church to dramatize the law's practical effects.

Josh Shapiro, the Democratic chairman of the Montgomery County board of commissioners, observed that if legislative Republicans had hoped to gain a political advantage from the measure, they might end up as victims of the law of unintended consequences.

He suggested that many of those without the approved IDs were senior citizens affected by the law and said, "A lot of seniors being affected are Republicans, and there is no push on the Republican side to help them."

Republicans rang in on the issue Wednesday after a picture of a sign specifying that delegates must show ID to get credentials at the convention was posted on Twitter. GOP officials quickly seized on it as evidence that the ID requirement is common and that the Democrats are being hypocritical in objecting to it for voters.

Republican Party of Pennsylvania chairman Rob Gleason said in a statement that "the fact that the Pennsylvania Democrats are requiring photo ID to pick up credentials at its own convention is the height of hypocrisy.

"It is hard to fathom that Democrats are more concerned about protecting their convention than protecting the integrity of Pennsylvania's election but the fact they implemented their own 'Voter ID' in Charlotte proves it. ... When will the Democrats stop cultivating a culture of fear around voting this election and simply join with us in helping to protect the sanctity of the ballot for all voters?"

state

Politics editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com.


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