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Voter ID law assurances fail to quell fears of disenfranchisement

| Wednesday, July 4, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

The contentious state voter ID law should pose no problem for most Pennsylvania voters, according to the Department of State and PennDOT, but local opponents of the law say the state's numbers show almost one in 10 voters could be disenfranchised.

The two agencies compared data and found that 91 percent of the state's registered voters have a PennDOT ID number on identification that qualifies them to vote. Supporters say the law is needed to prevent voter fraud.

Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele said in a news release on Tuesday that the comparison “confirms that most Pennsylvanians have acceptable photo ID for voting this November.” Officials at the department and PennDOT could not be reached for further comment.

“What's truly scary about this report is that it makes my case,” Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said. “About 10 percent of otherwise eligible Pennsylvanians are disenfranchised by the Voter ID law. That's not an acceptable number of people to tell that they can't vote.” Disenfranchised groups, Wagner said, include older residents, students and the poor.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing to overturn the law, and Allegheny County Democrats said in June they would file a Commonwealth Court challenge.

Opponents in the county have argued the law is too complicated and expensive to implement by the November presidential election.

“It also hands Pennsylvania counties a bill estimated at $11 million to implement at a time when counties are strapped financially,” Wagner said.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the role of government should be to make it easier to vote and encourage participation, something the new law does not do.

“If this isn't rescinded by the election, it's going to be absolute turmoil on Election Day,” he said.

According to the state, of the 758,939 voters who were not matched to a PennDOT identification, 22 percent are considered “inactive” voters — those who have not voted in at least five years. That could leave more than half a million registered, active voters out of the tally.

The law requires that notices be sent to voters on the verge of becoming inactive. Those who do not respond to the notices must be kept on the registration list until failing to vote in two consecutive general elections.

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5644 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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