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New Voter ID maps; Looking to Indiana

Published by Tim McNulty on .

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The battle over Pennsylvania voters without ID -- as the state's stats show -- has its two biggest fronts in the metro areas with the most voters, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, which are also dominated by Democrats. Voter ID critics at the AFL-CIO broke down the state's numbers into maps (above and below; click for bigger versions) making the point further.

Inside the courtroom -- and probably Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson's head -- the battle will be over the US Supreme Court's acceptance in 2008 of Indiana's voter ID law. Dave Weigel at Slate looks at the arguments yesterday:

The Crawford decision addressed a somewhat similar situation. Walczak focused on the differences. The Supreme Court found that provisional ballots could take care of voters who lacked ID. But a Pennsylvanian who voted that way would have only six days to get a valid ID and prove his identity. In Crawford, Stevens found that “the elderly in Indiana are able to vote absentee without presenting photo identification.” In Pennsylvania, though, voters have to offer some proof that they’ve earned absentee ballots—for example, that sickness or travel prevents them from voting that day.

And even then, asked Walczak, why force so many people into the absentee system? Why bet on the provisional ballot system? Why do all of this in one election cycle, when in Georgia, voter ID was phased in over two years, with four times as many locations for obtaining the right cards?

The reason, said Cawley, was the specter of voter fraud. The day before he had made this argument to Prof. Lorraine Minnite, author of The Myth of Voter Fraud. He informed her that Heritage Foundation Fellow Hans von Spakovsky worried about fraud; she said von Spakovsky’s work was unscholarly claptrap. He wondered how widespread fraud was; she showed a chart that indicated that there were 183,344 fraud charges of any kind in fiscal year 2006. Of those, only 60 of them were charges of voter fraud.

Cawley dealt with this by dismissing it. He repeated von Spakovky’s arguments and pointed out that another expert witness, Prof. Matthew Baretto, worked with the anti-voter-ID Brennan Center and the Hispanic turnout group Latino Decisions. How to explain the low voter fraud numbers? Perhaps voter fraud didn’t make it to the top of prosecutors’ to-do lists.

Simpson is expected to rule by Aug. 13, no doubt pushing the case into the lap of the state Supreme Court. Til then, and after, there will be more studies (like this one on the impacts of minority voters in Philly) and that from the giant union umbrella group.

"Not trusting any of the statements coming from the Department of State, we decided to do our own analysis of the raw data the Secretary was using to project the size of the pool of voters who may not have a valid identification under the strict guidelines of the new law. . . Nearly half of the voting population of Philadelphia, 427,000 voters, are vulnerable to losing their right to vote due to the new voter suppression legislation," said state AFL-CIO president Rick Bloomingdale.
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Casey begins ad campaign

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Via the FCC's new online political advertising site we have a real-life, if tiny, scoop today: U.S. Sen Bob Casey is going on TV tonight for the first time in his reelection campaign.

The local Fox affilate WPGH-TV posted a document showing the Democrat's campaign has bought a few low-priced spots from today through Monday. They may have bought on other broadcast Pittsburgh stations too (KDKA, WPXI, WTAE) but they haven't as yet uploaded any political files.

Casey also launched his campaign website today and Twitter handle. Republican opponent Tom Smith first advertised during the competitive GOP Senate primary and went up for the first time during the general last week. Casey's ad hasn't been posted to his YouTube page as of 4 p.m. UPDATE: The campaign released the ad -- set at a steel mill, and interestingly criticizing the Obama administration's Defense Dept for not using domestic steel melted outside the US for military vehicles -- Friday morning. The Defense Dept proposed changing that stance just yesterday.

We're nerds for the FCC tool, even if the records are only in pdf and not very searchable, and only the nation's top 50 TV markets have to post the records for now. That means for Pa we can only search buys in Pittsburgh, Philly and Harrisburg, and can't in Erie (which bleeds into ultra-important Ohio), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (which is increasingly important for advertisers) or Altoona-Johnstown (ground zero for the nationally important Critz-Rothfus battle).

And the site shows there is some presidential spending still around. WPGH also loaded an Aug. 1-Aug. 6 ad buy from the Obama-supporting SuperPAC Priorities USA Action.

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Closings in Voter ID case

Published by Karen Langley on .

From the main site:

HARRISBURG -- Closing arguments concluded this afternoon in the lawsuit seeking to halt the new voter ID requirement, setting the case up for a timeline the judge said should allow a final decision before the November elections.

Much of the six days of testimony in the Commonwealth Court were occupied with questioning by the groups challenging the law, as they presented people who they said might be prevented from voting and experts who testified that many people lack acceptable identification and that voter fraud is extremely rare. In his closing argument, Witold Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said the state has shown no interest justifying a law that he said could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people.

He argued the law puts an uneven burden on different groups of people, drawing upon testimony from individuals and data from a survey commissioned of Pennsylvania residents to conclude that people who are poor, uneducated, Hispanic, female, and elderly are less likely than others to have identification meeting the requirements of the law.

When faced with a witness who lacks the documents needed to obtain state identification, attorneys for the state have asked questions designed to show the person could still get a new form of identification, which is still under development. Mr. Walczak contended in his closing argument that the state cannot guarantee it will reach all voters with the new ID.

"The Department of State ID is not a magic bullet," he said. "The details are unclear, the release is uncertain, and it doesn't mean anyone can automatically walk in and get it."

In his closing defense of the law, Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Cawley said that each of the witnesses who spoke about their lack of documents has the information needed to receive an ID from the Department of State. He said the requirements of the law apply equally to all people and that the rigor of going to a Department of Transportation licensing center to obtain an ID is no greater than that of going to the polls to vote.

"The petitioners may make an emotional appeal that may play well to the cameras and those unschooled in the law, but Pennsylvania law does not support their request for injunction," he said.

Mr. Cawley also argued that halting implementation of the voter ID law would cause confusion and waste the resources of the state and other groups working to educate voters.

Judge Robert Simpson said he plans to render a decision in the week beginning Aug. 13, leaving enough time, he said, for Supreme Court appeals before the November elections.

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MoveOn Pgh ad dings Romney's horse

Published by Tim McNulty on .

The liberal group MoveOn is running an TV ad in Pittsburgh and two other swing-state cities tied to the Romney family's horse, which is competing in the Olympics tonight. In Mr. Ed style the horse talks about the Romneys spending $77,000 annually on its care and finishes with: "After Mitt Romney repeals health care and ships your job overseas, I dare say your life will not be nearly as pampered as mine."

MoveOn says the ad will run on broadcast and cable between 8 p.m. and midnight in Pgh, Cincinnati and Las Vegas. We don't know the amount of the buy but someday soon, thanks to the FCC, that kind of thing will be much easier to track.

To the consternation of the broadcast media biz, the FCC started requiring stations in Pittsburgh and the other top 50 media markets to start posting its political media buys online. The info in the so-called "public file" has always been public information but stored only on-site in TV station offices. The FCC site, which is already live, currently only covers ad buys made today and in the future so ad buys like that from MoveOn (or the Tom Smith re-up we mentioned Tuesday) won't be reflected.

A National Association of Broadcasters appeal for an emergency stay was tossed last week.

The Sunlight Foundation has an overview of the FCC requirements and the new online files here.

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McCain, Obama and the Pittsburgh presidential suite

Published by Tim McNulty on .

What is it with Pittsburgh and hotel rooms?

The city was back in the news yesterday in criticism from Republican John McCain over Obama administration national security leaks. From a floor speech quoted by Politico, regarding stories by the NYT's David Sanger:

"According to ... Sanger, 'a senior official in the National Security Council' tapped him on the shoulder and brought him to the presidential suite in the Pittsburgh hotel where President Obama was staying, and where 'most of the rest of the national security staff was present.' There, the journalist was apparently allowed to review satellite images and other 'evidence' that confirmed the existence of a secret nuclear site in Iran," McCain said. "I wonder how many people have the key to the presidential suite in a Pittsburgh, Pa. hotel. You might want to start there."

The meetup happened during the G-20 in September 2009 and was pretty well-noted at the time (Politico did a story about the episode) and Sanger has more in an email to Politico:

Sanger e-mails: "As I described in 'Confront and Conceal,'' during the summits in New York and Pittsburgh in 2009, I received a call from a diplomat in Europe who told me that the Iranians had gotten wind of the fact that their secret new facility near Qum had been discovered and rushed a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency. While vaguely worded, the letter admitted they were building a previously-undisclosed enrichment plant. I began to make calls to administration officials, who initially told me they would not discuss the subject. When it became clear to them that I was writing the story anyway, and that it would pre-empt the President's planned announcement, they decided to brief me. I posted the news on the Times website, because the last editions of the paper had already completed their run.

President Obama, of course, announced the discovery of the faciility the next morning, and several administration officials held a large briefing for the traveling press corps. Clearly, whatever they announced so publicly that day had been declassified somewhere along the line.''