Pa. voter ID law delay prompts outreach shifts

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HARRISBURG -- In the hours after a judge barred full enforcement of the voter ID law next month, the state moved to pull its ads, although a spot on its website Wednesday continued to tell voters they need to show identification in November.

The Commonwealth Court order Tuesday allowed voters to cast regular ballots in November even without photo ID. Judge Robert Simpson ruled that the state can continue its educational campaign about the new law, which remains in effect for future elections, but because photo ID is no longer required to vote -- although election workers are supposed to ask for it, as they did in the primary -- some advertisements were no longer accurate.

One TV advertisement available Wednesday evening on the state voting website tells viewers: "To vote in Pennsylvania on Election Day, you need an acceptable photo ID with a valid expiration date." Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the Department of State, said he had been told the advertisement was down. If not, he said, it would be removed Thursday morning.

State officials asked their media buyer Tuesday afternoon to take the voter ID advertisements off the air, he said.

"We are in the process of making some changes to our radio and TV ads to reflect the judge's order," Mr. Ruman said.

The parties challenging the law had wanted the court to stop the education campaign, but the judge declined to do so. David Gersch, an attorney in the case, said he has spoken with state officials about their plan to revise the advertisements.

"They have told us they will have accurate ads, and we'll be watching," he said.

Slightly different language conveyed the same message as the TV spot on a postcard the Department of State mailed to each household with a registered voter. No revised postcard will be mailed because the agency does not have the money to replicate the approximately $1.5 million cost, Mr. Ruman said. He said the cost of revising the ads will be within the $5 million allocated for education and outreach about the law.

The first of the TV ads aired at the end of August, with the main buy beginning Sept. 10, Mr. Ruman said. The radio ads went live Monday.

Since the injunction affects only the November election, with a hearing called for on the question of permanently stopping the law, the state will continue encouraging voters to obtain identification that can be used under the law.

"We're continuing to recommend people get IDs because, as it stands now, the law is in effect for future elections," Mr. Ruman said. "And we expect that will be the case because we think the law is on solid legal footing."

Political parties and campaigns also planned to tell voters about the change, although their differing messages reflect the partisan divide over voter ID. The state Democratic Party is accounting for the ruling in its explanation of voter ID to its campaigns and to people it has identified as both likely to vote Democratic and possibly lacking acceptable identification.

"We wanted to be crystal clear to people that this is where we are with it: Voting is back to normal for November 2012," said Elena Cross, a member of the state party staff who has worked on the issue.

Obama campaign volunteers have stopped asking voters if they have acceptable ID, instead focusing on asking people to register and vote, according to a Pennsylvania campaign official. State residents must register by Tuesday to vote in the upcoming election.

The state GOP plans to tell prospective voters about the changes while encouraging them to obtain the ID needed under the law, spokeswoman Valerie Caras said.

"It's never been about one election," she said. "Our goal is to make sure that voters understand this is still Pennsylvania law."

state

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141.


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