Hurricane Sandy: Add Storm to a Growing List of Voter Suppression Efforts in Pennsylvania


Update: This article is the latest in a series on voter suppression activity in 2012. You can read the other articles in the series by clicking, here , here and here.

Hurricane Sandy has already had one demonstrable impact on voting on the east coast. On Monday, if you call the VOTESPA hotline, you will receive the message that the office is closed. And then they hang up.

The Pennsylvania website VOTESPA.COM has a message regarding voter ID which reads “Voters will be asked, but not required, to show an acceptable photo ID on Election Day.”


If you click the link, the next page says, "Photo ID Requested for November 2012 Election."


As of October 4, if you called the hotline for the Department of State's Voter ID Hotline for further information, you received an automated voice message that said, “All Pennsylvania voters will be required to show a photo ID before voting.”

According to the Reporter, a producer from The Rachel Maddow Show contacted a state official, who promised to correct the message. The Reporter notes, “Now when Pennsylvanians call the hotline, they have to 'press 1' 'to speak to a person if they have questions about the voter identification law. It seems the problem could have been solved by replacing the old message, with a very short, straightforward statement: 'Pennsylvania voters do not have to show photo identification in order to cast their ballots on November 6.'”

In a previous article in this series, we reported that the Pennsylvania Department of Aging had sent out 9,000 letters to the elderly misinforming them that a photo ID was required to vote. We have now found out that Philadelphia mailed inaccurate information on voter ID to 34,000 retired city workers. Representatives from the ACLU and the NAACP filed a petition to have the state correct the misleading information. 

In addition to the misleading information from the state agency, the Philadelphia electric company PECO sent a mailer to its 1.3 million customers stating that a photo ID was required for election day. When contacted, the utility admitted the error, but according to many reporters, including Philly.Com, PECO said it intended to continue distribution of the faulty newsletter through its October billing cycle, which runs until October 28.


The company said “It's not possible for its printer to schedule a corrected run" and that the newsletter contains information on other programs "that needs to get" to customers. Furthermore, PECO says that they have no plans to send out corrected information during the company's next billing run, which begins October 29. However, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that PECO has sent out a corrective letter. State officials also said their mailing was “already in the pipeline when the judge issued his ruling.”

Pennsylvania has struggled mightily in getting out proper information regarding photo ID requirements for the November election. Pennlive reported that “Capital Area Transit buses are covered with a sign running the length of its body that shouted in big white letters, “SHOW IT” next to a picture of a driver’s license.”


In smaller type above that message are the words “This election day if you have it.” Bus shelter signs in Harrisburg also display the misleading “SHOW IT” signs.

Pennsylvania was caught unprepared when the court ruling did not go in their favor. Everything from the state and county websites, to state mailings, to billboards in both English and Spanish, to state utility mailings conveyed the incorrect information that a photo ID was required in Pennsylvania for the November election. But on October 2, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ruled that Pennsylvanians will not need a photo ID to vote in the November6 election.

The misleading information has been broadly communicated to all parties, but it will only impact the community that does not have the required photo ID, and that community votes heavily for the Democratic Party.

Voter rights advocates are concerned that the broadly distributed misleading information, potentially, could discourage many voters from casting a ballot they are lawfully entitled to cast. The Pennsylvania Department of Aging and Philadelphia are working with other facilities to print and distribute letters stating that a photo ID is not required for November 6; television ads have already been updated. The Philadelphia Tribune reported “An official with the state Department of State said to the best of his knowledge, the message on billboards across the state has been updated.”

Cynics wonder if the effort is too little, too late. Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania said, “A cynic might say this is an insidious effort to mislead people. I, of course, am not a cynic.”

The state has taken no responsibility for this campaign of misleading information. In a classic example of poor and wasteful government spending, The Reporter wrote, “Pennsylvania  Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman does not apologize for the commonwealth’s misleading voter ID ad campaign, insisting it is consistent with the judge’s ruling and noting that the $5 million federal Help America Vote Act money that funded the ad campaign had to be spent by November 6.”