Fresh off news of Philadelphia's mailing inaccurate information on voter ID to 34,000 retired city workers, the state's biggest utility, Peco, acknowledged a similar but more significant problem Tuesday - sending faulty voter ID information to 1.3 million customers in seven Pennsylvania counties.
Like the city's mailing, Peco's "energy@HOME"; newsletter advises voters that they will have to present a valid photo ID before they will be allowed to vote in the general election Nov. 6.
But Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. suspended the photo ID requirement in a ruling on Oct. 2 - just as Peco's newsletter began arriving in customer mailboxes, stuffed into their latest electric bills.
On Election Day, Pennsylvania voters will be asked to show photo ID, but will be allowed to vote whether they have it or not.
Cathy Engel Menendez, a Peco spokeswoman, said the newsletter wording was approved in August and Peco began printing them around Sept. 12 - a week before the state Supreme Court sent the case back to Simpson and told him he should tolerate no voter disenfranchisement.
"We were trying to do a service for our customers in Pennsylvania, to get the word out," said Ben Armstrong, another Peco spokesman. "Because of the press time of this particular publication, unfortunately the information in there is not entirely correct."
Customers who contact the company about the issue are being advised to consult the Department of State's website, www.votespa.com, or call the state at 1-877-868-3772. The problem is that people who read the inaccurate mailing from Peco will have no reason to call the company unless they suspect the newsletter is wrong.
Armstrong said Peco intended to continue distribution of the faulty newsletter through its October billing cycle, running through Oct. 28. It's not possible for its printer to schedule a corrected run, he said, and the newsletter contains information on other programs "that needs to get" to customers.
The other items this month include information on the utility's home energy audits, how to make donations to its Matching Energy Assistance Fund, Fire Safety Month, and a cutout for customers to get discounts at the Please Touch Museum.
Peco's next billing cycle begins Oct. 29, a week before the election, but the company has no plans to deal with voter ID in its next newsletter, Armstrong said.
Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, vice president and policy director of the Committee of Seventy, one of the civic groups most active in disseminating information about the voter ID situation, defended both Peco and the city, which erroneously added information to a city pension mailing before Simpson's ruling, saying photo ID would be necessary Nov. 6.
The Committee of Seventy had requested the mailings, Kaplan said in a letter to The Inquirer, "just one part of the tremendous efforts undertaken by the city and Peco to educate all voters about the state's voter ID law. They wisely continued these efforts rather than sit tight and do nothing during the three months the challenge to the voter ID law was making its way through the courts. For that they deserve thanks, not criticism."
Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or firstname.lastname@example.org.