Opponents of Pennsylvania's strict new voter identification requirements say voting will be suppressed come Election Day, but the state's top elections official is arguing the opposite, saying state efforts may trigger record turnout on Nov. 6.
"We are doing the most aggressive public relations campaign this state has ever seen, to both educate the voters on the election in November and then to make sure they know about photo ID," Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele said Wednesday in visit to Chartiers Valley High School in Collier.
"The message is, if you care about this country, vote. ... I'm expecting -- and it would please me to no end if we had -- the biggest voter turnout we've ever had in Pennsylvania," she said.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly and Gov. Tom Corbett approved the voter ID measure in March, with no Democratic support. The requirements for voters to show approved forms of photo identification with expiration dates were not in place for the state's April 24 primary, so they will be implemented for the first time during the presidential election in November, when some 70 percent of the state's 8.3 million voters are expected to cast ballots.
The state has budgeted $5 million to publicize the new rules in television ads that started late last month, radio ads that begin Oct. 1, and some Web and newspaper ads. In the next two weeks, it will issue explanatory letters to every household statewide with a registered voter, and additionally state officials are meeting with community groups, seniors, students and others to publicize the changes.
The effort took Ms. Aichele to Chartiers Valley High School, where she was tailed by reporters Wednesday while speaking to 25 seniors in teacher Dave Harhai's law and government class. Only six of the students will be 18 by Nov. 6, but Ms. Aichele pressed on.
The former math teacher, 62, who originally got into politics to save her children's school outside Philadelphia, told the students they should get extra credit if they watched the live TV coverage of the state Supreme Court hearing today on the voter ID bill. She referred to a Venn diagram when making her argument that there are only 100,000 state voters without ID, instead of the roughly 1.4 million advanced by the bill's opponents. She talked about how her own children were worried she would be ridiculed on "Saturday Night Live," like Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris was during the disputed 2000 presidential contest, if she did not implement voter ID sufficiently.
"I'm just working so that when we wake up [the day after the election] on Wednesday morning, whoever is declared the winner is in fact the winner. I don't want another Florida in Pennsylvania," she said.
Starting Nov. 6, voters will be required to show a photo ID such as a driver's licence (or other PennDOT ID); a valid U.S. passport; or other IDs issued by the military, government, nursing homes or Pennsylvania colleges marked with expiration dates. Those without them can cast a provisional ballot and then produce proof of ID to their local elections office within six days.
At a news conference and public hearing Wednesday at the City-County Building, Downtown, organized by Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, D-Carrick, council members and civic leaders said the law is aimed at disenfranchising the poor and helping GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney carry Pennsylvania.
They predicted turmoil at the polls, partly because many voters will show up on Election Day without knowing about the new identification requirements.
Speakers said voters who know about the new requirement have encountered numerous hassles obtaining new driver's licenses, such as showing up at state driver's license centers that were closed on the Saturday before Labor Day. Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, said paying for a new driver's license is a form of poll tax.
The fate of the law will be in the hands of the six-member state Supreme Court today. The court consists of three Democrats and three Republicans. A tie vote would affirm the law.
"I'm hoping that wisdom will prevail and that rightness will prevail, and not politics," Mr. Stevens said.
Asked about possible confusion at the polls, Ms. Aichele said most voters will have acceptable ID and proceed quickly through the voting line, while those without it will be directed to separate tables where they can cast provisional ballots.
She appeared shocked when told by a reporter that Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is considering placing extra security at polling places because of worries about voter intimidation.
"I would rely on the people of Pennsylvania to act in a citizenlike manner when they participate in the election process in November as they have always done, and we don't tolerate voter intimidation in Pennsylvania," she said.
Joe Smydo contributed. Tim McNulty: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1581. Follow the Early Returns blog at earlyreturns.sites.post-gazette.com or on Twitter at @EarlyReturns. First Published September 13, 2012 4:00 AM