In Philadelphia, controversy has grown around a set of billboards that urge Spanish-speakers to show their IDs. The latest is a billboard with a woman holding out her Pennsylvania driver’s license and the words, “Esta Jornada Electoral, Si La Tienes, Muéstrala.” (“This election, if you have it, show it.”)
The 58 billboards, found mostly in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, have been criticized for confusing Spanish-speaking Pennsylvanians about the state’s voter ID laws. Some groups are even accusing the state of attempted voter suppression.
After highly-publicized court battles, Pennsylvania ruled on October 2 that voters are not required to show IDs to cast their ballots on November 6. However, the law requiring voters to show photo IDs may take effect as early as next year.
The billboards, which ABC /Univision news reports were put up by the state and paid for with federal funding from the Help America Vote Act, do not say that photo ID is required for voting in Pennsylvania; but they don’t explicitly state that photo ID is not required either.
“I believe [these billboards] are misleading. This voter ID situation has been changing and moving so quickly, regarding what voters are hearing. It’s really important for the state to be clear about what IDs are needed for this election cycle and which aren’t. By refusing to clarify, it’s confusing,” says Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the Voting Rights Project. Johnson-Blanco believes it is “incumbent upon the state” to explain the rules for voting. She believes these ads could discourage voters, particularly Latinos.
According to Mother Jones, Latinos make up only 6 percent of Pennsylvania’s population, but about 20 percent of the billboards are in Spanish.
“These ads have all been in minority neighborhoods and I think the question is why,” says Johnson-Blanco. “Minority voters, Latinos included, are less-likely to have IDs that would be required. These voters need to know exactly what is required of them so they won’t be discouraged from voting.”
Nick Winkler, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, told ABC news that the signs are “perfectly clear.” He called the billboards an “opportunity to meet our interpretation of the judge’s ruling” and says that all Pennsylvania voters will be asked to show IDs even if they’re not required. In fact, Pennsylvania voters were asked to show IDs during the primaries.
Before the October 2 court ruling, the state had advertised the voter ID law with TV spots, radio commercials signs and billboards with a woman holding her Pennsylvania driver’s license and the words “Si Quieres Votar, Muéstrala.” (“If you want to vote, show it”).
The signs were removed from SEPTA buses, according to Richard Maloney, Director of Public Affairs at SEPTA who says,”We had the signs up originally, but when the court reversed the policy we gave an immediate order to take them down.” Maloney is “positive” all 80 king exterior billboards were taken down after the court order and they’re now checking for any interior signs that remain.
As for the billboards, Bloomberg reported that as recently as October 12 the originals were still up around the city of Philadelphia, most notably a Northeast Philly intersection. The billboards are owned by Clear Channel Outdoor, the same company that owns signs in Ohio and Wisconsin that recently caused controversy. Those ads were in mostly black neighborhoods and were criticized for misinforming and intimidating voters.
Only time will tell whether or not the billboard confusion will affect next week’s election. “I hope not,” says Johnson-Blanco. “But if I saw those billboards and didn’t have an ID, I may think ‘I can’t vote’ and stay home.”