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TV Smart Talk - PA Supreme Court on Voter ID Law

Written by Nell McCormack Abom | Sep 12, 2012 10:01 AM

Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law tops the docket at a state Supreme Court hearing this Thursday. We’ll debate the law’s merits on the season premiere of Smart Talk, Thursday night at 8 on witf TV. You can join the conversation by posting a comment below or to Facebook or Twitter, calling in live to 1-800-729-7532, or emailing smarttalk@witf.org.PA Supreme Court

Pennsylvania lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett last March enacted the nation’s most restrictive voter-identification law. It requires voters to produce acceptable photographic identification with a valid expiration date before casting a ballot. Click here for a list of approved forms of ID. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson upheld the law in August. Since then, the Corbett administration has rolled out a public information campaign explaining the new law’s requirements. There is a website, a new voting-only ID card, and a television ad that at least one Philadelphia lawmaker finds objectionable.

State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai stirred more controversy last spring when he told a Republican gathering, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Many critics of the law jumped on that comment as “proof” of the GOP’s political motivation. They argue it is designed not to root out fraud, but to suppress the votes of key Democratic constituencies like minorities and the poor. However, Turzai’s spokesman, Steve Miskin, insists that Turzai merely meant to convey that the law would lessen the possibility of voter fraud, protect the sanctity of each vote, and thereby level the playing field for all candidates.

In court testimony, lawyers for the state conceded that there is little documented evidence of voter ID fraud in Pennsylvania.  But Ron Ruman, press secretary for the PA Department of State and a guest on our show, points out other incidents of voter fraud, especially in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  “We had the issue with ACORN here in Pennsylvania.  And people said, 'Well, that’s voter registration, that’s not impersonation.'  My point is we have voter registration fraud in Pennsylvania and that is the first step to voter fraud.”  He adds, "People will do things outside the law to gain an advantage politically so shouldn’t we take the extra step to do this preventive measure which we see it as?” 

Our guests include Sharon Ward, executive director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. The PBPC did a survey last summer to assess how well PennDOT was prepared to assist Pennsylvania voters in obtaining the appropriate voter ID. The results were less than stellar. Ms. Ward will share the findings and her concerns about voter ID this election cycle.  Mary Wilson, state Capitol reporter for witf FM, has covered the voter ID issue in-depth since its enactment and will join the discussion. And, Rep. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe County, who voted for the law, rounds out our panel. Rep. Scavello made headlines this summer transporting an elderly voter to a PennDOT licensing center where she had trouble obtaining the necessary ID. He has vowed to assist any of his constituents who need voter ID.

There also is the possibility of a split court decision. There are six justices – three elected as Democrats, three as Republicans including the chief justice. The seventh, Republican Justice Joan Orie Melvin, is suspended pending her public-corruption trial. If the court splits its vote, Judge Simpson’s ruling would stand and the law would be in place for the November 6 election.

Ron Ruman says Pennsylvania has issued about 7,000 non-driver’s license photo ID cards since March. There is wide disagreement over the exact number, but it appears that at least 100,000 voters still need the photo IDs. A few key questions: How many voters will not have the required ID come Election Day? What effect will that have on the outcome in Pennsylvania? And, more fundamentally, which issue takes precedence – the right to vote or the right to a fraud-free election?

Pennsylvania is not alone in fighting this battle. Seven other states, nearly all of them with GOP governors, strengthened their voting-identification requirements this year.

We would love to hear your comments on the voter ID law. Be sure to join the conversation now by posting a comment to this article, or emailing smarttalk@witf.org. You also leave a comment on Facebook or call in live to the program at 1-800-729-7532 Thursday night at 8.

Watch a preview of the episode below.

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