Rally challenges voter ID mandate in Pennsylvania

| Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Supporters and opponents of Pennsylvania's voter ID law agree on one thing: Politics drive the battle over whether to keep the law that heads to court on Wednesday.

Opponents rallied at the Capitol on Tuesday, saying the Republican-controlled Legislature approved Act 18 to suppress voting in the Democratic stronghold of Philadelphia and keep President Obama from carrying the state in the November election.

Several speakers pointed to a June 23 comment by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods to the Republican State Committee: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. (Mitt) Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done.”

“Mike Turzai confirmed it,” said Rep. Ron Waters, D-Philadelphia, chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus.

But Allegheny County Republican Committee Chairman Jim Roddey called a U.S. Justice Department investigation of Pennsylvania's law “an attempt by the Obama White House to get voter ID overturned.”

“It's pure politics,” Roddey said.

Another effort to block the law, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, gets under way in Commonwealth Court before Judge Robert Simpson. A rally opposing the law is scheduled at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Freedom Corner, the intersection of Crawford Street and Centre Avenue in the Hill District.

In March, Pennsylvania joined 15 states with photo ID laws. Starting this fall, Pennsylvanians must show either a driver's license, a state-issued ID card or a military, government, university or nursing home ID in order to vote.

The Department of State has estimated 760,000 people don't have state-issued IDs. But Secretary of State Carol Aichele, a member of Gov. Tom Corbett's Cabinet, said that number might be closer to 85,000 to 100,000 people when subtracting computer mismatches and people who moved out of state.

The 2010 Census showed 9.6 million Pennsylvanians 18 or older, and PennDOT's database shows 9.5 million licensed drivers, Aichele said.

“The law is about having fair and honest elections in Pennsylvania,” Aichele said. “Voter fraud has been part of the American experience.”

Protesters wielding placards chanted outside a Senate hearing room where Aichele spoke to reporters.

“The truth is, there has been election fraud in Pennsylvania,” said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans. “We are honestly not certain why Democrats are fighting fraud and corruption tools.”

Critics note that Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Cawley acknowledged in a stipulation with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia for the Commonwealth Court hearing that Pennsylvania hasn't investigated or prosecuted anyone for “in-person” voter fraud and won't offer evidence of voter fraud.

Miskin cited extensive election fraud in a Philadelphia Senate district confirmed by a court in 1993. “This is an enfranchising law,” Miskin said.

Black leaders wielded strong accusations.

“It is a voter suppression bill,” said E. Richard Phipps of Penn Hills, communications director for the Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly.

“The voter fraud occurred right inside this Capitol building,” Waters said at the rally, pointing to where House and Senate members approved the bill.

“The voter ID law is based on a lie, told by liars,” said J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Pennsylvania NAACP. “Tom Corbett is a liar.”

Jane Kelley, a spokeswoman for Corbett, said he is “a man of unquestionable honesty and integrity.” She said the law “is designed to support the integrity of each vote cast by the eligible citizens of this commonwealth.”

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 and bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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