Controversial Billboards Urge Spanish-Speakers To Show ID

PHOTO: A set of billboards in Pennsylvania urging Spanish-speaking voters to show ID to vote is continuing to cause controversy.

Zack Hagert

A set of controversial billboards in Wisconsin and Ohio warning about the consequences of voter fraud came down after community groups voiced their opposition. But a set of billboards in Pennsylvania urging Spanish-speaking voters to show ID to vote continue to raise eyebrows.

The billboards read, "Esta Jornada Electoral, Si La Tienes, Muéstrala," which translates to "This election, if you have it, show it."

They feature a woman holding a photo ID card.

After a series of court battles surrounding Pennsylvania's hotly debated voter ID law, it was decided that voters will not need to show photo ID to cast ballots this election.

The law requiring voters to show photo ID may take effect next year, but voters in Pennsylvania will not need to present a photo to vote on November 6.

The billboards, put up by the state and paid for with federal funding from the Help America Vote Act, have drawn criticism from voter advocacy groups for being confusing.

While the billboards don't explicitly say that ID is required, they give no indication that is not required either, critics say.

The Advancement Project, a voter advocacy organization that opposes Pennsylvania's voter ID law, says that the ads are misleading.

The organization and a number of other groups filed a petition earlier this month alleging that the state has continued to distribute false and ambiguous information regarding ID requirements.

"Really, there's no reason for it," said Katherine Culliton-González, a senior attorney and director of voter protection for the organization. "It is within the letter of the law, but it's not within the spirit of the victory."

She thinks it will lead to confusion among voters, particularly among Latinos. Those who are eligible to vote but lack ID may be reluctant to go to the polls due to the billboards. The signs, in both English and Spanish, appear in many buses and bus stations and Culliton-González noted that Latino voters are more likely to take public transpiration than whites.

Nick Winkler, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, says the signs are perfectly clear.

"I do think it's clear that ID is not required," he said, adding that ID will be required in the future and the signs are part of a continuing education campaign to inform voters of impending rules.

"Every voter will be asked to show ID," he said, "although it's not required."

He called the billboards an "opportunity to meet our interpretation of the judge's ruling."

Winkler added that the billboards, along with television ads and other forms of outreach, direct people to the state's voter information website and a phone number, where more information is available.

He acknowledges that the billboards do not say explicitly that ID is not required.

"It's hard to get all the info out in a 30 second spot or billboard," he said.

He declined to comment on the Advancement Project's petition, saying he doesn't discuss ongoing legal matters.

Before the ruling that ID would not be required, original billboards showed a woman holding a photo ID and the phrase, "Si Quieres Votar, Muéstrala" in Spanish.

The English translation is, "If You Want to Vote, Show It."

Winkler said the state called for the signs to be taken down following the Oct. 2 court ruling that ID would not be required.

"To the best of our knowledge," Winkler said, "they have all been pulled down."

But a Bloomberg Businessweek article shows a photo of the original billboard still on display in Northeast Philadelphia more than a week after the Oct. 2 ruling.

And liberal blog Think Progress reports that a radio ad indicating people would still need ID to vote aired on KDKA on Oct. 26.

"You're not going to be allowed to vote unless you present an acceptable photo identification. Get to a PennDOT licensing center and get a photo ID at the drivers' license center," the ad falsely states.

The billboards are owned by Clear Channel Outdoor, the company that owns the signs in Ohio and Wisconsin that previously caused controversy.

While the state says it has asked for the removal of the original billboards, it fully supports the new signs asking voters to show ID if they have it.

However, it apparently didn't inform all agencies of its plans regarding either billboard, including SEPTA, southeastern Pennsylvania's transportation authority.

One Twitter user, Zack Hagert, using the Twitter handle @smrzle, received a tweet from @SEPTA stating "@smrzle Thanks for information! Sounds like it's a paid advertisement, we are working to have these ad's removed. Thanks again. ^VP," after asking about the signs.

There's just one problem. The state doesn't want the ads, paid for with federal money, removed.

The director of public affairs for SEPTA, Richard Maloney, said he wasn't originally aware of the Tweet, but said, "We took the wrong ones down and the agency that bought the spot put the new ones back up."

According to Mother Jones, while Latinos make up only six percent of the state's population, about 20 percent of the new billboards are in Spanish. Winkler said he didn't know exactly how many billboards are up, but said the Spanish versions appear in Philadelphia.

The Spanish-language version of votesPA.com, while currently accessible, was not always available. And the state was slow to remove voter ID requirements from their websites.

It took a week after the court ruling for Luzerne County, which has one of the fastest growing Latino populations in the country, to remove the billboards.

And votes are set to matter in Pennsylvania. ABC News recently moved the state from 'solid' Obama to 'lean' Obama. Both campaigns have been fighting for votes in the state.

Wisconsin

While the Wisconsin billboards have come down, along with those in Ohio, a business owner in the state is facing an official complaint from an employee.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin and others have filed a complaint against the CEO of Rite-Hite, Michael White with the Government Accountability Board.

They allege that White attempted to intimidate more than 1,400 employees into voting for Mitt Romney. White reportedly urged employees in a letter to "understand the personal consequences to them of having our tax rates increase dramatically if President Obama is re-elected."

"I am simply trying to present the facts as I know them and to protect the business you have helped build. Please think carefully about your vote on Nov. 6," it continued.

"Our election laws are set up to protect employees from undue influence and intimidation. The statute is a codification of the very basic notion that bosses do not have the right to threaten the security of their employees' jobs, retirement accounts, or health care plans based on who they vote for in a presidential election," said Jennifer Epps-Addison, economic justice director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, in a statement.

Rite-Hite did not return a call requesting comment, but the email and earlier billboards aren't the only alleged instances of voter intimidation in the state.

A Romney campaign poll watcher training in Wisconsin that drew fire from left-leaning Think Progress has elicited a response from an election official.

Reid Magney, a spokesman for Wisconsin's Accountability Board, told the Washington Post that some of the Romney campaign's claims are untrue. For example, the training indicates that convicted felons are ineligible to vote. Magney pointed out that those who are out of prison and have completed probation are in fact eligible to cast ballots. The Obama campaign sent a letter to Wisconsin Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen requesting an investigation into the trainings.

With the election just days away, Wisconsin is increasingly looking like a competitive state while Pennsylvania leans Obama, although far less decisively than it did just weeks ago. That means those who do cast ballots in each state have a chance to influence the outcome of the presidential election.

Cynthia Martinez and Santiago Wills contributed to this report.

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