PA Supreme Court Judge Robert Simpson ruled recently that Voter ID is a no-go for the upcoming elections, but you wouldn't know it from the ads.

The Commonswealth's "VotePA" web site has a video version of the ad that doesn't open up properly  and the Voter ID information on the page does little to dispel  confusion about right to vote.

The television ad shows a string of people holding drivers licenses and photo IDs up to the camera. "Show it," they say in Spanish, over and over again — four times, in fact. Then the voice-over kicks in: "If you vote in the upcoming elections of November 6 you will be asked to show a photo identification," a woman's voice intones," but it's not obligatory." The voice-over continues by urging listeners to apply for a photo ID and ends by listing a phone number and web site.

There is a lot wrong with this ad. That it is still being run, for one. If photo ID isn't required for this election, why is the Commonwealth expending money for television ads to run now? Must be Pennsylvania has money to burn — in which case, we suggest putting it back into funding for public schools, state universities and libraries, rather than running nonessential advertising.

But there's more than a dubious fiscal choice to decry. The ad, with its punchy and repetitive "Show it" refrain, is as misleading as it can possibly be without disseminating misinformation outright. The viewer, even the attentive one, is likely to glide right over the four words ("mas no es obligatorio" — but it's not obligatory) that follow the date of the upcoming elections and hear only the repeated injunctions about showing the photo ID and the need to apply for it. 

Even the choice of how to phrase the "but it's not obligatory" is suspect. While the "mas no es obligatorio" is technically correct, it is rarely used in spoken Spanish. It is more commonplace to use the clearer and more direct "pero no es necesario." 

Moreover, if you are confused by the ad and go to the Commonwealth's VotesPA web site in Spanish to make sure you caught it in its entirety, you will find an embedded version with a .wmv extension that downloads but doesn't open on every computer (it didn't on ours). 

While you're there, you'll see the primary image on the page isn't, say, how to cast a ballot or how to find your polling place, but a Voter ID headline and an image of a hand holding a drivers license. The subhead says (in Spanish): "Every voter will be asked to show an acceptable ID on election day but it's not necessary in order to vote." This time, at least, they get the usage right, but it's still at the tail end of the text and not set off— say, by making the font red — so it gets noticed. For Spanish-speaking voters who have already suffered through shifting sets of required documentation, PennDOT confusion, and poor (if any) Spanish-language outreach, this is just another clear-as-mud, inverted directive from the state.

Call us cynics but we don't think any of this is coincidence. 

Everything about the Voter ID law, pushed through precipitously by the GOP legislature and our governor so it would be in place before the Nov. 6 elections, has been disenfranchising to Latinos. Instead of clearing up confusion after Judge Simpson's ruling, the Commonwealth's poorly exectuted ads perpetuate it.

We are left with this: either the Commonwealth hires the most incompetent translators, designers, videographers, script and copywriters ever ... or it is actively trying to ensure some eligible voters are so confused about whether they can vote that they won't vote. 

Either way, Pennsylvania loses.


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