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Politics & Government

Will Poll Workers Be Ready To Enforce Voter ID?

A state employee and a county elections director are at odds over the ease with which the state's new Voter ID law can be enforced at the polls in November. The two testified in Commonwealth Court today at the hearing on a suit looking to block the law.

Department of State employee Shannon Royer said all poll workers will receive information in the mail on the new photo identification requirement at the polls. He said the state expects those workers on the front lines during elections will also receive training from the counties.

But attorneys arguing against the law point out it's not absolutely mandatory that poll workers go to the training session during which they'd be briefed on the new requirement.

Allegheny County Elections Director Mark Wolosik said some poll
workers will be left to interpret on their own parts of the law that haven't come with strict guidance from the state. Wolosik says in the past, comparing the voter's signature against past records was
an adequate way to scrutinize someone's identity. He says he himself was stopped by an election judge for having a questionable signature and that was while he was the Elections Director. He resolved the issue by showing his driver's license.

Wolosik also told the court that his office is bracing for long lines November 6 due to the Voter ID law. He said turnout is already high in general elections, as much as 70 percent.

Numbers from the state show as many as 100-thousand people in Allegheny County won't have photo ID needed to vote this fall. Wolosik says even based on the most conservative estimates, as many as 35-thousand people might have to cast provisional ballots because they'll be without ID at the polls. He says verifying and tallying those ballots will be an involved and lengthy process.

Thursday lawyers suing the state to toss out its Voter ID law say a poll taken just weeks ago casts doubt on the success rate of any effort to educate voters about the new requirements. The survey was commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and was the focus of the Commonwealth Court hearing to block enforcement of the law.

Vic Walczak, legal director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, said it shows between 11 and 13 percent of the commonwealth's eligible voters, registered voters, and people who voted in 2008 believed they have the photo ID they need to vote in November. But, he said the survey finds they actually don't.

"If you think you have the right kind of ID, you're not going to be paying attention to somebody telling you you need ID, you need a certain kind of ID," Walczak said. " As soon as you hear, 'Oh we have a voter ID law, I'm gonna go get a beer.' "

The study was presented during testimony on the second day of the hearing of the legal challenge to the new requirements. Walczak said one of the more important findings is that many people are unaware of the requirement.

"This is three months after the law is passed, this is after all the publicity surrounding the passage, this is after the lawsuit has been filed, there's been a lot of publicity, a lot of news about this law. And still 37 percent of people did not know that Pennsylvania had this photo ID requirement.

University of Washington associate professor Matt Barreto, who directed the survey, said any voter education campaign will have a low rate of success. He says state ads will have to compete with political ads on crowded airwaves as the general election campaign season kicks into high gear.

In cross-examination, the commonwealth's attorney says such testimony makes assumptions of what the education campaign will entail.

Rebecca Oyler from the Department of State also took the stand. Oyler said the commonwealth's original report that one percent of the electorate lacks PennDOT photo ID was the result of an estimate made in one day, upon the request of the state House lawmakers last year.

The revised estimate issued within the last month shows as much as nine percent of the electorate, or 759-thousand registered voters, lack the proper PennDOT ID.

Judge Robert Simpson has said he hopes to issue a ruling the week of August 14.