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Democrats criticize Corbett administration for moving slowly on voter ID law

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 8:45 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Democrats on the House budget-writing committee on Thursday accused the Corbett administration of not doing enough to prepare for the possibility that Pennsylvania's embattled voter-identification law will be enforced in the Nov. 5 general election.

The lawmakers questioned Secretary of State Carol Aichele about Gov. Tom Corbett's decision not to include money for outreach efforts in his 2013-14 budget plan, even though the law could be in full effect — or overturned — by the time voters head to the polls then.

“This (law) has created tremendous confusion,” said Rep. Matthew Bradford, D-Montgomery. “People have no idea what the status of their ability to vote is. We're going to have to educate people. There's got to be some appropriation for that.”

Aichele defended her department's efforts, saying it spent $4.9 million in federal money last year on a multimedia campaign to explain the new requirement that all voters show photo ID at the polls.

“There is a high level of awareness about voter ID across Pennsylvania,” Aichele asserted in testimony before the House Appropriations Committee.

Even though the law was signed in March 2012, the requirement never has been enforced because of a pending lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

A court order barred voter ID from taking effect as scheduled in the presidential election and will remain in force in the May 21 primary. A trial in Commonwealth Court is scheduled for July, although case is ultimately expected to be settled by the state Supreme Court. It's not clear, however, whether the matter will be settled before the Nov. 5 election.

The bill was approved in the Legislature without a single Democratic vote, touching off a politically polarized debate.

Democrats said the measure was a thinly veiled attempt by Republicans to discourage minorities, senior citizens and other Democratic-leaning groups from voting. Republicans said the bill provided protection against voter fraud.

Aichele said on Thursday that she has no evidence and knows of no incidents of voter fraud in the Nov. 6 presidential election.

She said federal money is not available for a similar voter-education blitz this year because there are no federal elections and that no state funds for that purpose are included in Corbett's budget plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Once the court case is resolved, the state will “do everything in our power, within our means,” to ensure voters understand the law, she said. If a judge or the Legislature orders a special outreach campaign, the administration would comply.

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