Pennsylvania's controversial photo-identification law isn't yet in effect, but voters told state officials on Election Day that they were turned away from the polls because they didn't comply with it.
Those reports are still under investigation and haven't been confirmed, but civil rights and voting rights groups lampooned the state throughout the day Tuesday and accused Pennsylvania officials of suppressing the vote, particularly in areas with large minority populations.
"This is the fault of the Pennsylvania state government. We lay it at their feet that voters are having so many problems," said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, during a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. "Poll workers have been poorly and wrongfully trained. ... That's wrong. The state of Pennsylvania ought to be ashamed."
The Keystone State has found itself at the center of a heated national debate over photo identification and voter fraud and was one of about 30 states to try to address the issue in recent legislation.
Photo-ID laws have been passed in at least nine states over the past two years, including Pennsylvania, according to a tally by the New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice.
The most restrictive forms of those laws — those that allow voters to cast a ballot only if a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, is shown — are in effect in only four states: Kansas, Tennessee, Georgia and Indiana. Kansas and Tennessee passed their ID measures recently, while Indiana and Georgia have had theirs in place for a number of years.
Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas sought to join those four states in time for Tuesday's election, but their efforts were blocked in court. In the case of Pennsylvania, a judge ruled that voters without a photo ID simply didn't have enough time to acquire one before Election Day, putting the legislation on hold until 2013 at the earliest.
Pennsylvania poll workers were allowed to request photo identification from voters, but had to let them vote if they couldn't — or wouldn't — provide it.
State officials have acknowledged that they received reports of voters inaccurately being told they must present a photo ID in order to vote.
"We got a few scattered reports of that. We turn those over to the counties. ... We don't know what came of them. We don't know if that actually happened," said Ron Ruman, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State. "Hopefully, it wasn't the case."
Supporters of voter IDs in Pennsylvania and elsewhere argue that such measures are the only surefire way to stop fraud. They point to cases like the "Truth Monkey" being allowed to vote in Virginia on Tuesday despite having his face completely covered by a mask.
"That, in a microcosm, is the problem with [current] ID laws. Someone can go in with a mask and vote and not be challenged," said David Almasi, executive director of the National Center for Public Policy Research, which supports stricter voter-identification measures.
"It seems the only reason you wouldn't want to have voter-ID laws in place is if you wanted to make cheating easier," he said.
Others disagree and accuse states such as Pennsylvania of wanting to disenfranchise minority voters, who, statistics show, are much less likely to possess government-issued photo IDs.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a favorite among liberal Democrats, took those charges a step further Tuesday, saying that voter suppression and harassment are central to the Republican strategy in key battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.
"Given the vote and the leading in the polls in Ohio, the only way [President Obama] can lose is if people are prevented from casting their ballots. Either by voting machines that aren't functioning right or other forms of harassment," he said during an interview on MSNBC.
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