State department secretary: Voter ID law valid

Pennsylvania’s leader of its Department of State said she expects its voter identification law will be upheld after review during a Commonwealth Court case that is set to begin July 15.

The law, which requires voters to show photo identification before voting, was suspended for the 2012 presidential election and this year’s May primary election due to previous litigation.

Carol Aichele, serving as secretary of the commonwealth under Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, said Wednesday during an editorial board meeting with the Sun-Gazette that Pennsylvania has made getting photo identification accessible for everyone who wishes to have one.

“If you can register to vote, you can get a state ID card. No documentation is required,” she said.

One of the department’s missions is to ensure a fair election process. Aichele said that while voter photo identification may help, it is not the only answer.

“There always have been examples of (fraud). Will voter ID end it? No,” she said.

Just 10 percent of the department’s budget goes toward elections, Aichele said. The remaining amount funds the other functions of the department, which includes licensing medical and real estate professionals, registering charities, maintaining corporate filing information and the oversight of professional boxing, wrestling and mixed martial arts in the state.

Aichele noted the low number of voters that turned out for May’s primary election.

“We have a closed primary. I think that will be an issue going forward,” she said.

The secretary also said that online voter registration also may implemented, which could boost the number of people who show up on election day.

She said the state Senate has passed a bill that would allow online voter registration, but it has not been acted upon by the House.

Aichele also said she would like to see online registration available for corporations on the department’s website. That option isn’t available now, she said.

“For 2.7 million corporations, this is huge,” Aichele said.

The department also oversees the registration of lobbyists operating within the state. Aichele said her agency loses hundreds of thousands of dollars each year because the costs to register lobbyists are more than what they pay.

Lobbyists now are required to pay $200 every two years for registration. Aichele said her department wants that fee to increase to $350 a year.

Revenues should meet expenses, she said, and not have to be made up on the backs of taxpayers.

“We don’t think it’s going to kill these guys. It’s 96 cents a day,” said Ronald G. Ruman, the department’s director of communications and press secretary.

Aichele and Ruman also promoted Corbett’s budget plan, including the sale of state-controlled liquor stores and state pension reform.

Corbett has continued to increase funding for basic education since taking office, they said. The problem lies with federal stimulus money that former Gov. Ed Rendell used four years ago for education costs that were not replaced by the state, Aichele and Ruman contend.

“We’re continuing to hear that the governor cut $1 billion from education, and he didn’t,” Ruman said.

Aichele, a former teacher and school board member, said schools would benefit from the $1 billion expected from the sale of state liquor stores.

“It’s way more than what we’re getting now,” she said.

Aichele also said that the state’s combined $47.1 billion unfunded pension liability for most state employees and teachers is growing beyond control, calling it an oncoming “tsunami.”

She said school districts are forced to make cuts to programs just to pay for pension costs.

“If you’re a school board, how do you plan for this stuff? The places that are going to get cut are education and public welfare because that’s where the money is,” she said.