Poll workers to ask for ID in 'soft rollout' of Pennsylvania voter-ID law
Voters heading to the polls next week will be asked — but not required — to show photo identification to cast a ballot.
State and Westmoreland County election officials say the “soft rollout” of the new voter ID law on Tuesday will enable them to determine which voters might need to get an acceptable ID by the time the ID requirement takes effect, possibly as soon as spring 2013.
Nobody is certain how many voters lack appropriate ID.
In July, the Pennsylvania Department of State mailed letters to nearly 760,000 voters who, it discovered, could not be matched with driving records from the state Department of Transportation.
The list included 842 people -— or 4.7 percent of registered voters — in Penn Township, Trafford and Manor, state records show.
But a driver's license is only one of seven permissible photo IDs, including a passport or current college ID. State-issued voter IDs, which are valid for 10 years, became available for free because of the new law.
Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele has estimated there are fewer than 100,000 people — about 1.1 percent of registered voters — without a valid photo ID.
“We do believe it's a small number,” state department spokesman Ron Ruman said. “We do think that most folks have one of those (acceptable) IDs.”
Tuesday, Westmoreland County poll workers will follow the protocol they established during the April primary when they asked voters for an ID, Election Director Jim Montini said.
Those without an ID still can vote if they're listed on the voter roll, but will receive a handout about the new state law, he said.
As of mid-October, 33 states had some type of voter ID law in effect for the general election, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of those, 12 states require the ID to include a photo.
Pennsylvania isn't on that list because Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ruled on Oct. 2 that voters might not have enough time to get the required photo ID before the next election.
Voting on the state law fell along party lines in the area. Republican state Reps. George Dunbar and Eli Evankovich and state Sen. Kim Ward approved the law, while Democratic state Reps. Ted Harhai, Joe Markosek and state Sen. Jim Brewster opposed it.
Simpson's ruling infuriated state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-12, who was the law's main sponsor.
Though state officials couldn't identify a recent instance of voter-impersonation fraud, Metcalfe said he expects the law to deter people from considering voter fraud in future elections.
“It's really just a common-sense policy to make sure the electoral process has integrity, and that every voter is safe from corruption,” Metcalfe said.
Democrats such as former county party chairman Ken Burkley have argued that the law addresses a problem that doesn't exist.
Burkley said the law should be phased in to ensure voters aren't disenfranchised.
“I always tell people there's no doubt in my mind this is a voter-suppression move by the Republicans,” Burkley said.
Locals on the list
Some Penn-Trafford area residents said they were surprised to learn that their names were on the state roster as potentially missing an approved driver's license photo ID.
In many cases, a person's records might be in conflict for a simple reason, like the use of a nickname on a driver's license or a discrepancy involving a middle initial, state officials said.
J. Eric Barchiesi, an attorney from Penn Township, appears to be on the roster because he is listed as “John Eric” on his driver's license and “J. Eric” in voter-registration records.
“I thought everything was hunky-dory,” said Barchiesi, a former candidate for Westmoreland County Common Pleas judge. “That's got to be the issue.”
Ruth A. George of Trafford has a similar reason. A half a century ago, when she worked in the accounting department for Westinghouse in Turtle Creek, her company ID listed her as “Ruth S. George.” The “S” represented her maiden name, Slack.
Her driver's license now lists her as “Ruth S. George,” although she signed it “Ruth A. George.”
“I'm sure for everybody that worked at Westinghouse in the Valley at the same time, it'll be the same way,” George said.
The law states that a person's name on his ID must “substantially conform” to the name listed in the voting district register.
State Rep. Frank Dermody, D-33, is in the same boat because his license lists him as “Francis.”
“The fact is, (Dermody) can use his license to vote,” Ruman said.
The reasons are less clear for other voters, such as Andrew Kinkella III of Level Green.
He's also on the roster but isn't sure why. He says he has other photo IDs he can use if his driver's license isn't suitable.
Still, Kinkella said he thinks the law is a good idea.
“It's my opinion that they're getting illegals or whoever they can to vote for the liberal side, and even if they were trying to do it for the conservative side, I still think it's a good idea.”
Staff Writer Brad Pedersen contributed to this article.
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.