PA Voter ID Law On Hold, But Is The Damage Already Done?

Voting rights advocates won a significant victory in Pennsylvania when Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson put the state’s controversial voter ID law on hold. Unfortunately the state’s slow response to the decision has enabled a concerted dis-information campaign, creating a climate of fear around voting that will have the same effect as the initial law—depressing turnout among the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians.

Before Simpson’s ruling, Pennsylvania launched a $5 million advertising campaign to let voters know about the new law, including “Show It” ads on television, posters on public transportation and billboards. State authorities have been much less zealous, however, about letting folks know that they’ll now be able to vote without ID.

For starters, even though Simpson’s decision was released three weeks ago, the billboards remained up until last Tuesday, and the television ads stayed on the air until at least October 6, four days after the court’s decision. Worse, the ads that replaced them are still wide open to misinterpretation—“SHOW IT” is still there, but now there’s a smaller disclaimer that photo ID isn’t mandatory.

On top of this, until Center for American Progress blew the whistle last week, 5 counties’ websites still indicated that voters will need photo ID. Although the offending pages have since been removed, it’s difficult for the state to earnestly claim that it has lived up to its obligation to inform voters of their rights in any meaningful way.

The state’s inaction has allowed some to actively spread misinformation unchallenged—PECO, the state’s largest power company, said in its October newsletter to customers that photo ID would be required to vote. The utility has acknowledged that their newsletters contained misinformation, but plans to distribute them through the rest of the month anyway.

Fortunately, the state’s insufficient response to Simpson’s ruling has caught the attention of the same voting rights groups that brought suit against the original law. Last Friday, a coalition of advocates asked for a supplementary injunction, demanding that the state take a more active role in educating voters about their rights to counteract the suppressive effects of their “SHOW IT” campaign.

Photo ID laws have always been about keeping people from the polls, and even if they’re not enforced on November 6, the damage will have already been done. Untold Pennsylvanians without photo ID have been left with the impression that they won’t be able to vote, and unless the state takes decisive action to fix the mess it made, these folks will be staying home this Election Day.

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