Despite an Oct. 2 ruling by a Pennsylvania judge putting the state’s new voter ID law on hold, a series of misleading ads and announcements is sowing confusion and fear among residents with just two weeks until Election Day, civil rights and union leaders contend. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ruled that election officials can still ask voters for photo identification but cannot require it. Simpson called the photo ID requirement reasonable and non-discriminatory but said there was not enough time before the Nov. 6 election to ensure that voters who lacked it were not disenfranchised by the change in the law. That critical detail in Simpson’s opinion — that photo ID is not required in this election — has been lost in much of the $5 million advertising campaign by the Pennsylvania Department of State, voters rights advocates charge. On buses, an ad displays a photo ID with “SHOW IT” in big block lettering. In smaller type, it says photo ID is not mandatory. Moreover, state officials acknowledge that it was not until Tuesday, a full two weeks after the court opinion, that the last of the pre-decision billboards announcing photo ID as a requirement came down.
Confusion was compounded when PECO, the Philadelphia power company, sent a newsletter to 840,000 customers in its October billing with an announcement that voters must have a valid photo ID. A company spokesman said that the bills started going out a couple of days before the court decision and that an updated announcement is on its Web site. He said the information will be corrected in the November billing, which will be mailed Oct. 28.
Irwin Aronson, an attorney for the AFL-CIO’s Lawyers Coordinating Committee, a group of 2,000 volunteer labor attorneys working on elections rights issues in key states, said that the act of poll workers asking for photo ID could suppress the vote in some communities. “We’re very concerned,” he said, adding that poll workers, who are not required by the state to undergo training, may not be fully versed on the court decision, which could slow lines and ultimately discourage people from voting. Late Friday, the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization, filed a petition asking Simpson to order Pennsylvania officials to cease advertising and distributing information about the photo ID requirement.