Expert: Pennsylvania's efforts to promote voter ID law ineffective

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HARRISBURG -- A witness for challengers of Pennsylvania's voter ID law said Friday the state's campaign to inform potential voters about the new law and procedures for obtaining acceptable ID was ineffective.

Diana Mutz, a professor of political science and communications at the University of Pennsylvania, said the state's efforts to educate eligible voters about the law and procedures to secure acceptable ID via the "Show It" campaign missed the mark.

"It wasn't always clear what 'it' was," she said, in regards to the "Show It" slogan. At first, she said, the ad seems to suggest "it" is enthusiasm for civic engagement.

The ads ran on TV, radio, print products and buses, encouraging voters to present ID at the polls. The ads directed viewers to votespa.com for further information. Ms. Mutz criticized the campaign for failing to provide more detail on procedures to obtain an acceptable form of ID.

Ms. Mutz's testimony concluded the first week of the trial. Challengers to the state voter ID law seek to permanently reverse requirements for voters to present acceptable forms of ID at the polls. An injunction granted last fall stopped the ID requirement from taking effect at the November 2012 elections.

Under the law, the secretary of the commonwealth must disseminate information about the ID requirements.

On Friday, Ms. Mutz said she could not conclude whether the campaign made an impact and informed Pennsylvanians about the law because the campaign did not include efficacy measures. The state did not "pre-test" its message with focus groups or use limited roll-outs of the campaign in smaller geographic areas to see if the message was being understood, Ms. Mutz said.

The state rejected Ms. Mutz's criticism. Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett's general counsel, said unique hits to the campaign's website, statewide mailing literature and one-on-one education with voters at the polls in the last year constituted measurable markers of the campaign's success.

Ms. Mutz said the amount of money spent on an advertising campaign -- another factor cited by Mr. Frederiksen as an indicator of effectiveness -- is not an overall predictor of whether an advertising message will be successful. The state has set aside about $2.6 million in the 2013-14 budget for public education, pending the trial's verdict, Mr. Frederiksen said.

Earlier in the week, plaintiffs brought in experts to calculate the number of eligible voters without an acceptable form of ID, a figure they said is in the hundreds of thousands. Lawyers for the state contested the estimates. Any estimate is inconsequential because all eligible voters have access to obtaining an acceptable form of ID, Mr. Frederiksen said.

The trial resumes Monday afternoon.

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Megan Rogers is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association. First Published July 19, 2013 2:30 PM


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