After roughly 19 months on the job, Commonwealth Secretary of State Carol Aichele has the unenviable task of convincing Pennsylvania voters that the Voter ID Law is designed to counter voter fraud, rather than a partisan move that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.
Part of Aichele’s duty is to ensure that every eligible Pennsylvanian voter has the proper identification to vote, and to educate voters on the law – which, she stresses, will not allow any voter from being turned away at the polls without being afforded the opportunity to vote.
Aichele, along with Deputy Secretary Shannon E. Royer, met recently with the Tribune’s editorial board to reaffirm the nature of the law, and to get the word out that voters “may not be turned away from voting.”
“We have $5 million of ‘Help America Vote’ money for education for federal elections, and we would have spent money to educate voters about the election anyhow; we are also using the money to put forward the issue in respect to Voter ID,” Aichele said, listing the ways her office has mobilized for the coming elections. “And $250,000 is being used for non-media events, and the Bravo Group is averaging three events a day, seven days a week, going to community groups, church groups here in the city and across the state, chambers of commerce and rotary clubs.
“Anywhere [local organizations] ask us to go, we’ll send somebody out.”
As it stands, the State Department has worked in conjunction with PennDOT to create special voting purposes-only photo identification cards. To obtain one of these cards, a potential voter must present documentation verifying their name, social security number and any two sorts of utility bills or other such documents that will verify the voters’ address.
Aichele said the common misperception about the controversial Voter ID Law is that, without photo identification, there’s the potential that thousands of voters will not be able to vote. Aichele said no one will be turned away from the polls, as long as they can provide their first name, last name, social security number and produce two pieces of mail that verify their address; a voter will then receive a provisional ballot, which will allow them to cast their vote.
Both Aichele and Shannon seem acutely aware of the partisan overtones of the Voter ID Law, and agreed that recent comments attributed to Pennsylvania Republican Majority Leader Mike Turzai haven’t done much to quell that perception.
“Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation – abortion facility regulations – in 22 years, done,” Turzai said, according to PoliticsPA.com. “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
Further damaging Aichele’s stance is the harshly worded response to the U.S. Department of Justice request for the documentation and other voter information that determined the Voter ID Law in the first place.
Although Aichele says she didn’t write the response, and only became aware of it a few days before the Voter ID Law trial, her name is on the letter and it does lends credence to the critics who believe this law is another way to slant the vote.
Aichele also stood by her claims that more than 99 percent of all eligible Pennsylvanians already have the required photo identification, and that she estimates roughly half a million voters may need to either obtain the voter ID card through PennDOT, or will fill out provisional ballots.
When pressed on the merits and timing of the vote, Royer defended the Voter ID Law, noting City Commissioner Al Schmidt’s recent report that there have been more than 700 instances of voter fraud and other irregularities at Philadelphia polling places.
“People voting twice in the same day under different names, non-citizens voting, theoretically, some of them cannot have the types of acceptable identification used to vote; it would stop that kind of fraud,” Royer said. “To suggest that activities don’t occur that voter ID can help prevent is just not true. You have it right here in Philadelphia.
“That is why people have lost confidence in the vote.”
Aichele also said that while there are strict voting policies in place, her office has no enforcement or investigative powers, meaning any suspect activity will have to be dealt with by local law enforcement, along with the District Attorney’s office.
“We are going to try very hard to build confidence, and not withstanding what Mr. Turzai said, it is our intent to make sure that every eligible voter has a photo ID and votes, and we will protect their rights,” Aichele said. “No poll worker can turn them away from a polling place. They cannot be denied the right to vote. It’s their right.
“I’m absolutely certain that if this election is close and there are provisional ballots, that there will be lawyers looking into this very carefully, and I would welcome that.”