Washington Co. sample: No photo ID for about 4 percent of electorate

December 11, 2012

About 4 percent of Washington County’s voters lacked photo ID or declined to show it Nov. 6, according to a random sample of 33 precincts.

Washington County Commissioner Harlan Shober, the only commissioner serving on the election board for the Nov. 6 contest, and Larry Spahr, elections director, asked members of local election boards, in training sessions the month before the election, to survey those who arrived at the polls. Some took down the information, but others did not keep track.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson struck down the provision of the new law mandating valid, government-issued photo ID for the presidential election, but another election is coming up in May, and the law remains on the books.

“We don’t know where the law goes,” said Shober, who was the lone commissioner on the board because his colleagues, Larry Maggi and Diana Irey Vaughan, were seeking higher office. Both fell short in their quests.

He encouraged anyone who does not have a valid, government-issued photo ID to obtain one before the May primary at a PennDOT driver’s license center.

Lack of ID did not prevent any voters registered in Washington County from casting a ballot in person, Spahr said, but Simpson’s ruling did not exempt those who voted by absentee ballot. They were required to submit either a full Pennsylvania driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

The sample of 33 of the county’s 184 total precincts reflected 25,804 voters. It did not differentiate between those who lacked photo ID and those who, for whatever reason, had IDs but declined to show them.

Of the sample precincts, slightly more than 18 percent of the voters in California Borough’s third precinct, which votes at the Smallwood Gun Club, fell into the lacking or declining to show ID category. The precinct with the highest ID rate was at Washington’s Seventh Ward, first precinct, which votes at Washington High School, weighing in with 0.84 percent lacking or declining to show ID.

In four of Cecil Township’s six precincts, the percentage without IDs ranged from 7.87 in Cecil 3 to 1.35 percent in Cecil 1.

The sample covered various geographical areas of the county, including at least one precinct from the above-noted municipalities plus Amwell, Blaine, Buffalo, Canonsburg, Carroll, Centerville, Robinson, Smith, South Franklin, South Strabane, Twilight, Union, West Bethlehem, West Middletown and West Pike Run.

Members of local election boards recorded responses on photo ID by hand in poll books, and elections office staff scanned bar codes in the books to credit those who came to the polls or voted by absentee ballot to preserve their status as active voters.

Spahr said he was contacted by a vendor of electronic poll books, which would reduce the scanning process to two hours from its current month and a half.

If a voter showed up at a precinct other than where he or she was registered, the electronic poll book would show where the person should report. It also would reveal if a voter was not registered in the county.

Election Day calls to the elections office in a Georgia county that used the electronic poll book were reduced by 90 percent, Spahr said.

The cost would be about $300,000. Spahr said the federal government, through Pennsylvania, has made $160,000 available to the county through the Help America Vote Act. Spahr has requested the commissioners allocate the remainder of the money from the Marcellus Shale impact fee, also known as Act 13.

Shober said the commissioners have not decided how to spend the $4.4 million that has been placed in an account.

The official results of the Nov. 6 election showed that 96,350 of Washington County’s 142,275 voters cast ballots, a turnout of 67.72 percent.

The totals of straight-party voters were very close among Republicans and Democrats, 17,876 and 17,525, respectively. Straight-party absentee voters were distributed among 1,155 Republicans and 800 Democrats.

In presidential voting, Washington County officially recorded 50,445 votes for Republican Mitt Romney to 38,503 for President Barack Obama, who won re-election both nationally and in Pennsylvania.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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