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Pennsylvania voter ID mastermind says law too relaxed

| Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — The chief architect of the voter ID law said he's disappointed in the way that the Corbett administration is implementing the statute, suggesting it is on its way to being watered down as it moves through the courts.

Lowering the requirements for obtaining a newly made, state-issued photo ID allows the potential for fraud — the very thing the law aims to prevent, said House State Government Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry.

“We respectfully disagree with Representative Metcalfe,” said Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley. “Our interpretation of the law is the state does have the authority to issue (new) voter ID. We're trying to implement the law in a fair and effective manner, and to provide a photo ID to voters who don't have one.”

A Commonwealth Court judge who upheld the law in August might rule as early as Thursday on whether he will allow its use in the Nov. 6 election.

The state Supreme Court last week sent the case back to Judge Robert Simpson to issue an injunction unless he's convinced the state has made every effort to make sure voters are not disenfranchised.

“I think the executive branch has gone farther than what the law allows them to do,” Metcalfe, the law's prime sponsor, told the Tribune-Review.

There's nothing in the law that allows for alternate state-issued ID from the Department of State, or the relaxed standards the department issued this week, Metcalfe said.

Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the Department of State, said the law allows for photo ID issued by the “federal government or the commonwealth.”

The intent of the law was for voters to primarily use drivers' licenses and secure nondriver ID issued by PennDOT, which require a higher standard of documentation, Metcalfe said. The law also allows voters to use military, university, nursing home and municipal government-issued photo IDs.

Voter ID brought a raging partisan and legal battle. The GOP-controlled Legislature approved it, and Corbett, a Republican, signed it in March. Democrats opposing the law say it's intended to suppress Democratic votes in urban areas among low-income voters and minorities. They say there's no proof of voter impersonation in Pennsylvania.

In a hearing before Simpson on Tuesday, the state announced new standards making it easier for voters to get the Department of State ID, which was first offered in late August. Alfred Putnam, the state's lead lawyer, said the state was trying to meet the Supreme Court's interpretation of the law. He said it would be central to the state's argument against the need for an injunction to halt the law.

A coalition of civil liberties' groups and the NAACP are seeking the injunction. Simpson said he might issue an injunction of some sort. He must rule by Tuesday.

A nondriver's ID from PennDOT is free. It requires a Social Security card, a birth certificate with a raised seal, and two documents proving residence. Applicants also can use a passport or certificate of citizenship, said Jan McKnight, a PennDOT spokeswoman.

The Department of State required two documents proving residence but eliminated that requirement this week. A registered voter can get the Department of State card without any documents by providing name, address, date of birth and a Social Security number, McKnight said. Those are cross-checked in databases, officials said.

“The voter ID law has been a moving target with frequent changes in procedures and now a brand new type of ID,” said Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

The policy center in a joint project with the Service Employees International Union visited 44 licensing centers and concluded voters are receiving little information about the new form of identification and in some cases were discouraged from seeking a Department of State ID.

“The commonwealth is still falling short when it comes to ensuring that voters have access to free ID,” Ward said.

PennDOT customer service representatives initially encouraged people to get the more secure form of ID, McKnight said. She noted the survey was done in September only shortly after the Department of State cards were created. Workers now offer the Department of State cards first, McKnight said.

A study by a Swarthmore College professor for Senate Democrats released on Wednesday found 4 percent of voters did not have photo ID. Keith Reeves, director of the Center for Social and Policy studies, conducted a survey of 277 voters at Philadelphia precincts in the April primary when photo ID was optional.

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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