Conflicts caused by the state’s last attempt to improve the integrity of elections was the biggest source of complaints logged by a watchdog group during the 2012 presidential race. But that isn’t stopping lawmakers from trying to tinker even more with the state’s election rules, again in the name of improving voting integrity. The Legislature’s state government committee held a hearing last week on a package of bills that includes tougher penalties for voter intimidation and a ban on promotional materials inside polling places. The bills come up as the state’s controversial voter identification law remains in legal limbo, blocked from taking effect by a state appeals court judge’s order. The law passed in March 2012 has never been enforced, but it has resulted in confusion and anger among poll workers told they had to ask for ID and voters told they didn’t need to show it. Like the voter ID law, a proposed ban on promotions in polling places could create conflict between voters and those who are supposed to be assisting them, advocates worry. Barry Kauffman, executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of Common Cause, said a ban on posters would be acceptable. But it would cause problems, he said, “if that is interpreted to mean you can’t walk in wearing a pin with the name of your preferred candidate.” Poll workers shouldn’t be judging what voters are wearing, Kauffman said.
Concern about political materials is a response to an incident in the November 2012 presidential election. Conservatives objected to a mural of President Barack Obama on the wall of a Philadelphia elementary school that served as a polling place.
Poll workers initially covered just the face of Obama’s likeness, leaving other tell-tale quotes and logos in view. The entire mural was later covered under court order.
“It is important to note that the mural of President Obama was a part of a school mural that had nothing to do with election materials,” said Joe Certaine of the Pennsylvania Voting Rights Coalitions. “It was used as a political issue because the school is also used as a polling place, and coincidentally came into view of voters using the building.”
But the author of the promotions ban, Rep. Stan Saylor, R-York County, described the mural as a form of voter intimidation.