Prominent names are among Allegheny County voters with faulty ID
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If there were a voter-of-the-year award, Judy O'Connor might just be a shoo-in.
Wife to late Mayor Bob O'Connor, the Squirrel Hill resident has cast a ballot in every local, state and federal election since Bill Clinton's first presidential run. She's even the judge of elections at her local precinct.
But as the state readies to roll out new voter identification requirements at the polls, the longtime voter was surprised to find herself on a list of nearly 100,000 Allegheny County residents who might be barred from voting this November because of faulty photo ID.
"I'll have to go [Downtown] and re-register I guess. I don't know," she said Tuesday. "What do I do?"
Her last name is spelled "Connor" on her voter registration card, explaining why she's not found on the list the Department of State generated to try to identify voters without driver's licenses or other forms of state-issued ID. The department issued the list of some 758,000 voters statewide in an attempt to track down voters most affected by strict new voter ID changes set to be in place for the Nov. 6 election.
The list includes many voters who likely do have licences or other acceptable photo IDs -- such as U.S. passports or those from the military, state, nursing homes and state universities carrying expiration dates -- but are listed merely because of spelling errors or other database discrepancies. Others on the list of 99,115 voters in Allegheny County who don't match with PennDOT records include county councilman and United Steelworkers official John DeFazio, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald's wife, Cathy, county Judge Michael Della Vecchia and city Councilman William Peduto.
All those political names have ID and will be able to vote in November, and all are Democrats.
The requirements "are a sure case of voter suppression that 10 years from now we'll look back on and change," said Mr. Peduto, of Point Breeze. "Anybody arguing the case this [legislation] is to go after fraud and abuse is fooling themselves. This a measure to intimidate people not to show up to vote."
"This kind of mistake is likely a drop in the bucket, but it makes it clear that we really have no clue how many people these misguided voter suppression laws will affect," USW International President Leo Gerard said of Mr. DeFazio being on the list. "If the records are wrong for an elected official who has served for years, then what about the thousands of others who could lose their rights? Who belongs on this list? Who does not? We really don't know."
An analysis of the Allegheny County data shows nearly a third of listed voters are 60 or older, and many are clustered in a series of ZIP codes that make up some of Pittsburgh's poorest neighborhoods -- East Liberty/Lincoln-Lemington, East Hills and the Hill District.
Women are nearly twice as likely to be without ID in Allegheny County. Voters in their 20s -- an important subset for Democrats -- are the second-most impacted age group, after those 80 and older. Democrats dominate the list, accounting for 66 percent of all voters suspected to lack ID. (Democrats make up 61 percent of all registered voters in the county.)
To build the list, state statisticians combined county voter rolls with a PennDOT database of residents with state-issued identification, looking for voters who were on one list but not the other. They are being issued mailers explaining how to get valid photo identification before the November elections.
But upon closer examination, problems with state's calculations quickly become apparent. Technically, a ZIP code encompassing Oakland tops the list for most voters without ID -- more than 7,500 people. But that area is dominated by University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University students, who can use their college-issued IDs to vote. Well-to-do Squirrel Hill, which also boasts a substantial student population, is third on the state's list of ID-less voters for Allegheny County, followed by McCandless and Penn Hills.
Many of the residents picked out by the state's analysis are consistent voters. Just under 19,000 voted in the May primaries. And 705 have voted in every election since 1983.
The state generated the list knowing it would be overly broad and contain voters with IDs, said Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman.
"The only reason we did this comparison is that we wanted to come up with the only feasible possible list of people who might not have a PennDOT ID," he said. "We wanted to send letters to these folks to alert them to the law and the IDs that are acceptable."
Building it was tricky, said Dave Burgess, the deputy secretary for planning and service delivery, in an interview last week.
"You're matching one computer system to another computer system that has never been connected before," Mr. Burgess said.
The new law bars balloting by voters who have licenses that expired a year before the election. Another list generated by the state and distributed by the AFL-CIO shows there could be up to 1.6 million voters statewide (including 208,000 in Allegheny County) without state-issued ID, but state officials argue that number is overly broad as well.
That said, the lists do include many voters who could be legitimately prohibited from casting votes for president Nov. 6. The case of Mrs. O'Connor's misspelled voter card will be a judgment call: The law allows for votes if registered names "substantially conform" to those on photo IDs, Mr. Ruman said, but the decision would be up to the judge of elections at her polling place.
Which, of course, is Mrs. O'Connor herself.
First Published August 1, 2012 12:00 am