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Some Pa. poll workers illegally asked voters to show ID

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 John Lutz, judge of election for Cheltenham’s 7th Ward, 1st District, asked voters for identification. (Kevin McCorry/WHYY)

John Lutz, judge of election for Cheltenham’s 7th Ward, 1st District, asked voters for identification. (Kevin McCorry/WHYY)

Pennsylvania does not have a voter ID law.

Still, some going to the polls in Montgomery, Bucks and Philadelphia counties Tuesday encountered poll workers asking all voters for identification, something the Pennsylvania Department of State describes as a form of voter intimidation.

Election lawyer Larry Otter said he encountered one instance at a polling place in the Newtown Township administration building in Bucks County Tuesday.

At the front of a snaking line of 175 people, he said the judge of elections had a list of names.

“He was asking everyone for ID. Everyone! That’s absolutely illegal,” he said.

Otter, who is also a Democratic poll watcher, wrote up a complaint to file with the Bucks County district attorney’s office when the election judge stopped demanding identification.

County Director of Elections, Deena Dean, said she doesn’t know exactly what happened at the Newtown polling place. She said, however, the law prohibits asking people for identification off the bat, except in one case.

“They’re only permitted to ask a voter that’s voting for the first time in an election district,” either a photo or non-photo identification.

Once a voter starts signing in, a request for ID may also be triggered if their signature does not match the one in the poll book, she said.

In addition to listing the practice among other “illegal” voter intimidation tactics, the Pennsylvania Department of State Voter ID guidelines put a directive to not make unnecessary identification demands at the top of its Voter Identification Guidelines.

“Voters do not need to show photo identification at the polling place,” read the rules. “Poll workers should not ask every voter for photo identification.”

Still, lingering confusion over the state’s scrapped voter ID law seems to have left some poll workers under the impression it is within their rights.

Election judge John Lutz of Cheltenham’s 7th Ward in Montgomery County said his poll workers ask for IDs to speed up the process.

“It shows you the spelling of the name,” he said on Tuesday. “It just makes it easier for her to write it in the book, ’cause they have to find it.”

He said he believed it was legal, because voters who did not have IDs were not turned away.

However, that practice still breaks the law, according to Dean and state guidelines.

After the Commonwealth Court struck down in-person proof of identification, commonly called the voter ID law, as unconstitutional in 2014, the language remained in parts of the election code, according to Department of State documents, further adding to the confusion. The law was struck down as an undue burden on low-income and elderly voters.

It’s not clear if registered voters in other locations were asked for identification or were discouraged from voting.

NBC Nightly News reported “widespread reports of voters wrongly being asked for identification by poll workers” in Philadelphia, citing examples in neighborhoods in North and Northwest neighborhoods.

In Bucks County, two polling places were told to stop the practice Tuesday, according to Dean.

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