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NAACP officer calls state's voter ID law confusing

| Tuesday, July 31, 2012, 10:06 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Witnesses at a hearing on Tuesday regarding the state's voter-identification law painted a bleak landscape of voters confused by the new photo requirement.

They said they believe that PennDOT officials are dispensing misinformation and offering conflicting estimates of how many voters lack valid IDs.

“The information is just not getting out quick enough” to ensure that voters know about the law and understand how to comply, testified John Jordan, director of civic engagement for the NAACP.

His group is among plaintiffs in a Commonwealth Court lawsuit seeking to prevent the law from taking effect — the first step toward a broader challenge of its constitutionality.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday.

Judge Robert Simpson, a Republican, has said he hopes to issue a ruling during the week of Aug. 13.

The photo-ID law, which the Republican-controlled Legislature approved earlier this year without any Democratic votes, requires every voter to show a valid photo ID ­­— one of the nation's strictest ID laws. The law represents a significant change from the current requirement, in which only people voting in a polling place for the first time must show identification, including non-photo documents such as a utility bill or bank statement.

The law has provoked a fierce debate over voting rights as Pennsylvania is poised to play a potentially crucial role in the presidential election. Democrats accuse Republicans of trying to erect barriers to voting in an effort to gain an advantage for presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a state that President Obama carried in 2008.

Secretary of State Carol Aichele, the state's top elections official, testified about her department's efforts to make PennDOT IDs — a driver's license or a non-driver photo card — the standard for complying with the new law.

Aichele said 91 percent of the state's 8.3 million voters have valid IDs and that the PennDOT cards — free to voters who lack other acceptable IDs — are the “most useful” form of photo ID.

The plaintiffs contend that at least 1 million voters don't have valid IDs. Aichelem though, said state officials believe the number is “substantially less” than the 759,000 voters whose names were not found in a comparison with a PennDOT database.

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