Pa. dems confident voter ID law won't sink Obama

MANCHESTER, NH - JANUARY 08: Harriet Boylan heads into a voting booth to cast her vote in the New Hampshire presidential primary at the Ward 3 Carol M. Rines Center January 8, 2008 in Manchester, New Hampshire. New Hampshire residents vote today in the nation's first presidential primary.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

This article originally appeared on RealClearPolitics.

(CBS News) CARLISLE, Pa. -- As a volunteer for President Obama's campaign in this suburban enclave tucked into the rolling hills of Cumberland County, Elisabeth Sims asks every prospective voter she contacts whether he or she is aware of Pennsylvania's new voter identification law.

Obama staffers have coached Sims to offer instructions for obtaining an acceptable form of ID, but the only requests for assistance she's fielded in the past month of phone banking and door-to-door canvassing have been from elderly or disabled residents who need a ride to the polls on Election Day.

"In my phone calls, I haven't had one person who's said that they didn't have ID, and I've made hundreds of calls," Sims said.

On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear arguments on the legality of the law that is among the nation's most stringent. The issue has drawn national scrutiny from both ends of the political spectrum as either a hot-button illustration of a key state's efforts to combat electoral fraud or an attempt to suppress fundamental voting rights, depending on whom you ask.

But with polls showing Obama maintaining a consistent and fairly comfortable lead in the Keystone State, Democrats here by and large say they don't believe the law will jeopardize the president's chances, despite their opposition to it.

"In all voter contact that's taking place right now, there's an element in there of 'Do you have the appropriate ID?' And if they don't have it, they're getting information on how to get the appropriate ID," said Pennsylvania Democratic strategist Mary Isenhour. "It's a very organized, strategic effort to make sure people have the appropriate ID."

Since Republican Gov. Tom Corbett signed the voter identification bill into law in March, opponents of it have warned that the measure could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of mostly poor and older voters who lack an acceptable a photo ID with a valid expiration date, which is now required to cast their ballots on Nov. 6.

Meanwhile, Republican strategists had quietly speculated that the law could give Mitt Romney a significant boost in the state, while state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai openly boasted that it would "allow" a GOP presidential candidate to win Pennsylvania for the first time since 1984.

Democratic organizers have been particularly engaged in educating inner-city voters in Philadelphia -- the state's largest city, where many residents rely on public transit to get around and lack driver's licenses -- about the new law.

But the response to a state government effort encouraging voters to obtain IDs has thus far been underwhelming. Since the law was enacted, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has issued fewer than 8,000 non-driving IDs, which are being offered for voting purposes, according to agency spokesperson Jan McKnight.

"The bottom line is that it has not impacted our day-to-day operations," McKnight said. "We see 4 million people in a given year at driver's licensing centers."

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is currently split among three Democratic and three Republican judges (a fourth GOP justice is currently suspended from the court as she awaits trial on corruption charges).

If the state's high court issues a split decision, a lower court's ruling last month that upheld the law would stand. There is no timeline by which the state Supreme Court must rule on the matter, but most Pennsylvania political watchers expect it happen well before Election Day.

If the court does uphold the law, the plaintiffs challenging it might next bring their case to federal court, although the window to do so before Election Day would be tight.

KDKA-Pittsburgh political reporter Jon Delano, a longtime observer of Pennsylvania politics, said that while Democrats remain confident that the law will not hinder Obama's chances here, its effect could lead to widespread controversy in November.

"I envision long lines at the polls as people present IDs and judges of election examine whether or not people have the right ID to vote," Delano said. "That's not going to happen in an instant, so people are going to have to wait. You can see how this could wreak havoc on Election Day, unless one candidate wins in a landslide."

Pennsylvania Republican officials and Romney campaign strategists in Boston continue to insist that the state could be in play. But in a sign that it is not currently perceived to be within Romney's reach, neither campaign nor any of the major super PACs are currently advertising in Pennsylvania.

Republican field offices here nonetheless remain busy.

At a volunteer phone-banking session in Harrisburg on Wednesday, Bob Irwin of nearby Hershey struggled to convince a Ron Paul supporter, who said that she intended to stay home on Election Day, to instead cast a ballot for Romney.

While Irwin was confident about Romney's chances overall, he was realistic about the Republican's Pennsylvania hopes.

"It's still an uphill climb for him here," he said.

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.