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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Even failed voter suppression efforts do damage

Misunderstandings spawn misinformation, confusion

Actually, the people at the utility serving Philadelphia and several suburban counties meant well.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the state's largest utility, known as PECO, just wanted voters to know that they would have to present a valid Photo ID in order to vote.  After all, at the time the newsletter was written – August – and the time it was sent out – the end of September – that really was the law.

But on Oct. 2 a judge struck down the photo ID requirement. As a result, more than one million utility customers have been misinformed.

While this started out as an honest mistake, PECO compounded the error by continuing to send out the newsletters, even after the judge issued his ruling.  According to the Inquirer:
[PECO spokesman Ben] Armstrong said PECO intended to continue distribution of the faulty newsletter through its October billing cycle, running through Oct. 28. It's not possible for its printer to schedule a corrected run, he said, and the newsletter contains information on other programs "that needs to get" to customers. 
Of course.  Indeed, one can only imagine the disappointment across the greater Philadelphia region if customers opened their bills to find – only a bill.  No doubt they would march on the utility offices pouring out their despair at missing their monthly newsletter.

And no wonder.  As the Inquirer reports:
The other items [in the newsletter] this month include information on the utility's home energy audits, how to make donations to its Matching Energy Assistance Fund, Fire Safety Month, and a cutout for customers to get discounts at the Please Touch Museum.
Something similar is happening, on a smaller scale, in Kansas.  In that state, county and state officials are bickering over what kind of school IDs can be used by high school students who are old enough to vote.

Of course all this is music to the ears of those pushing what are, in fact, voter suppression laws.  Even as courts narrow, postpone or strike down many of these laws, the confusion left in their wake is likely to dampen turnout at the polls.

This is one assault on the democratic process that can succeed even when it fails.

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