Good News, Bad News on Voter ID front | Slag Heap

Good News, Bad News on Voter ID front

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For those fearful that the state's controversial Voter ID bill is a mere Republican power-grab, there's good news and bad news this week.

You may be familiar with the outrage surrounding the first contract let out by Gov. Tom Corbett's Administration: As Philadelphia City Paper Daniel Denvir reported earlier this month, a quarter-million-dollar voter-notification contract was won by the Bravo Group, a firm with strong ties to the GOP and to Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. That prompted lots of whining from the usual suspects, and this morning, Talking Points Memo disclosed that Bravo Group was apparently doubling down, having subcontracted minority-outreach work to a firm that has done consulting with the GOP committee.

But maybe the fix isn't in. A new, larger voter ID contract has been let to a Pittsburgh firm ... one which doesn't have strong GOP ties.

Red House Communications has won a $1.8 million job to create broadcast and print ads, as well as other outreach materials in the voter ID campaign. And if anything, Red House's politics appear to be tinted blue.

Gloria Blint, the firm's president and CEO, has a modest track record of supporting Democrats. A check of FEC records shows that she gave $250 to Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. That same election year, she also contribute $1,500 to former Erie Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper, who went on to win that race, and another $1,500 to Stephen O'Donnell, who lost his challenge to Republican incumbent Tim Murphy. Blint previously contributed $2,000 to Georgia Berner, a New Castle businesswoman who mounted a progressive challenge to Jason Altmire.

On the state level, Blint made a 2009 contribution of $1,000 to then-Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato -- who was of course gearing up to take on Corbett himself in the following year's gubernatorial race.

My initial search hasn't turned up any other political activity by Red House execs, unless you count its PR director having worked a two-decade-old stint for a Republican Congressman.

Meanwhile, the Department of the Commonwealth has been doing some outreach of its own, sending out letters to voters who may lack ID. We had one of those letters forwarded to us, which you can see for yourself here (identifying information has been redacted).

It's all fairly straightforward, spelling out what forms of ID will be acceptable at the polls, and what documents you may be required to provide in order to get a photo ID should you need one. But one assertion jumps out:

"[T]he Department of State is working with PennDOT to develop an alternative form of photo identification for voting purposes only that would be available to those who are unable for some reason to obtain a PennDOT photo ID."

That's a reference to a little-noted alternative the state is busily working on, due out sometime in the next few weeks. The goal is to provide though so far state officials could "not elaborate on specifics of the new cards, or describe what the lesser requirements might be for obtaining one."

Sounds great. Except ... wouldn't it have been nice if state officials had figured all this out BEFORE they began dropping letters into the mail? Wouldn't it have been nice if the letter had been able to spell out all the options a voter had? So people could take advantage of them?

Some critics -- including the famously evenhanded G. Terry Madonna -- have argued that any Voter ID law should be at the very least delayed ... precisely to deal with such logistical problems. On the other hand, maybe Republicans have a new argument against suspicions that Voter ID is a sophisticated back-door power grab: "We're just not that organized!"

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