PHILADELPHIA – Looking down at an intersection in northeast Philadelphia, a blown-up image of a woman holding a Pennsylvania driver’s license is flanked by the Spanish slogan: Si Quieres Votar Muéstrala (If you want to vote, show it).
The state-sponsored billboard’s message may leave some voters confused about what’s needed to cast a ballot this year, after a court ruling last week blocked a requirement to produce an approved photo identification at polling places. Television advertisements highlighting the law that passed this year also were broadcast as recently as Oct. 6.
Lingering ads about the law in the Republican-led state may suppress votes on Nov. 6, opponents say, while just 3 percentage points separated the presidential contenders in a recent Pennsylvania poll.
Advocates have fought the measure, questioned election-fraud billboards in Ohio and challenged voting restrictions in battleground states from Florida to Wisconsin, sowing confusion even where laws haven’t changed ahead of a national election that is too close to call.
You want to be sure all voters are getting an accurate message, a consistent message, said Ellen Kaplan, policy director at the Committee of Seventy, a non-profit government watchdog group in Philadelphia.
The worst problem in this case might be if voters still believe they need a photo ID to vote, and if they don’t have one, they may say, I may as well not go to the polling place.’
Backed by Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, Keystone State lawmakers passed the voter-identification bill in March. It was one of at least 12 measures requiring approved identification to cast a ballot put in place or updated since 2011.
Supporters say they’re needed to prevent voter fraud. Critics say the rules will disenfranchise minority, poor and young voters, who tend to support Democrats.
Legal challenges to the laws across the United States are causing confusion in states such as Florida, where no changes have been made, said Cedric McMinn, executive director of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party.
McMinn said he has explained to some voters that they can get a ballot by showing any of several different types of identification, including credit or debit cards with photos.
We’re going to have some problems, McMinn said.