By Kimberly Leichtner, Associate Consultant
On Tuesday June 26th, Fels alum Talia Stinson, ’10, moderated a lively discussion on the new voter ID law between Carol Aichele, Secretary of the Commonwealth; Tony Payton, Jr., State Representative for the 179th Legislative District; and Al Schmidt, Philadelphia City Commissioner. Act 18 was signed into law by Governor Tom Corbett in March 2012, making Pennsylvania one of five states with a strict photo ID requirement. Starting with the November 2012 elections, the law requires all registered voters in the state to present a valid photo ID with an expiration date.
Secretary Aichele explained that the law’s intent is to make sure that elections in Pennsylvania are fair. She conceded that while they do not have a quantifiable figure on the extent of voter fraud, voter fraud exists and that the law is meant to address this. The PA Department of State is spending $5 million in federal voter education funds to educate citizens on the new law including television and radio advertisements, mass mailing of flyers and hosting educational events like this one at Fels. The state’s goal is to make sure that 99% of eligible voters have a photo ID come November. They are working with PennDOT to issue free photo ID for voting purposes.
State Representative Payton raised a good point that the law has an adverse impact on certain members of our community including non-drivers, English-as-a-second-language (ESL) speakers and economically disadvantaged residents who would need to make a choice between groceries and birth certificate fees. Given that there is no evidence on the pervasiveness of voter fraud, he argued that there was no compelling case for the state to spend millions of dollars and to roll out this initiative so quickly. Rather than creating road blocks limiting voters from getting to the polls in November, Payton said we should be encouraging them.
City Commissioner Schmidt concluded by saying that regardless of how people feel about the law, it is what it is and that what needs to be done is to make sure people know about it. He stated that while implementation of the law presents a big challenge, it is essential to plan for it since it is going to happen.
However, in May, the American Civil Liberties Union of PA filed a lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania alleging that the new voter photo ID law violates article 1, section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and has asked the Court to issue an injunction blocking enforcement of the law before November’s election. A trial has been scheduled for July 25th in Harrisburg.
Despite people’s disagreements about whether or not the law is necessary or even constitutional, everyone agrees that educating voters about the law is key. More information on the requirements of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law can be found here.