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Commissioners questioned on Voter ID law, Defense Act

Published May 18. 2012 05:01PM

Several Carbon County residents questioned opinions that the board of commissioners have on the new voter identification law and the National Defense Authorization Act.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, a number of residents stepped up to ask the commissioners their thoughts on the new voter identification law, which goes into effect for the upcoming presidential election.

James Walp of Lehighton said that he wanted to know because it's important to him.

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, said he doesn't have a problem with the new law, but has some concerns with the process that is in place because of requirements with the law.

"I certainly believe we need to tighten up our election system with voter fraud," he said, stating that he has concerns because one requirement under the new law is the photo ID must have an expiration date. Currently state and county photo ID cards issued to their employees do not have an expiration date and are not a valid form of identification for the election.

Nothstein added that the law doesn't cover absentee ballots.

"How do we know that the absentee ballots are being filled out by the same person," he asked.

Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard said he had some concerns when the law came out because he thought it would hurt the elderly population who want to vote but may not have a valid photo ID.

"I thought it was going to affect them," he said.

He echoed Nothstein's concern about the expiration date requirement.

Gerhard added that he did a lot of research on the law last week and learned that a voter can file an absentee ballot if they do not have a driver's license when they go to vote if they provide the last four digits of their social security number.

"I think that's going to correct that problem," he said. "How I personally feel doesn't really matter though. It's signed into law and put into place for a reason."

He provided an example of why the law was put into place.

In Philadelphia, the election office removed two names "Joseph Cheeseboro and Joseph Cheeseborough" from its registered voters list because they were found to be fraudulent names. Unfortunately, they had both voted in the 2007 primary and 2008 general elections before being detected.

Commissioner William O'Gurek said that he is opposed to the law for some of the same reasons that his colleagues have concerns.

He said that he believes "requiring people to have a photo ID would disenfranchise their vote because there are a lot who don't have a photo ID."

He added that he feels that it will stop a lot of senior citizens from voting who had previously been active voters.

O'Gurek then addressed Gerhard's comment on absentee ballot voting.

He said that there are only two reasons in Pennsylvania that are allowed when applying for an absentee ballot either the voter won't be in the county on the day of the election, or the voter is ill. Therefore, he said that people who don't have proper identification should not be able to cast an absentee ballot on the day of the election.

Walp said he agreed with some of the reasonings, but asked if the board ever considered that the law would help balance the system and cut down on fraud?

O'Gurek said Walp made a great point, but thinks "When you weigh the pros and cons of that bill, I think the number of people who will not participate will far exceed the fraud votes in Carbon County. I think the problem needs to be attacked differently."

Hope Gramlich of Lehighton said she felt the commissioners' concerns were not valid because older people need a photo ID to obtain treatment at a doctor's office or hospital. And she needs an ID to get on a plane or even Amtrak.

"As far as older people not having an ID, they have to or they are not going to get served," she said.

Sandy Dellicker, president of the Lehighton 9/12 Project, then addressed the board, saying she was "really disappointed that the board doesn't support the law entirely."

"I had high hopes when the election came around and I thought things were going to be changing," she said. "If you're not in support of it now, how do we know you're going to enforce it come the election?"

Nothstein again said he does support the voter ID law, but has concerns with the process of it because of requirements the state is mandating.

The group then changed topics, discussing the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the military to detain a suspected terrorist that supports al Qaeda or the Taliban on American soil.

Valerie Norato of Penn Forest Township, who a month ago, approached the board with a resolution that would nullify portions of the NDAA, asked when the board would finally act on the resolution.

She said before that she feels it is not constitutional because it gives power to the military to detain American citizens without charge or right to counsel.

Nothstein said that the board will act on it at next week's meeting.

Norato then turned to the group present and asked who supports the resolution nullifying portions of the act in Carbon County to stand up about 12 people did.

Robert Dages of Jim Thorpe, echoed Norato's thoughts, handing out the article "Court halts enforcement of 'Battlefield USA' bill provisions," written by Joe McDurmon. The article states "U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest has issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the portions of the National Defense Authorization Act 2012."

Glenn Claypoole, an area business owner, then asked what the board needs that it doesn't already have to make a decision on the NDAA.

Two weeks ago, Norato asked the board for its position on the act.

At the time, Nothstein and Gerhard said they discussed the matter and are considering signing the resolution, while O'Gurek said he believes that, according to the interpretation of the act he received from the United States Senate, the act does exactly what it should, defend Americans from terrorists.

In other matters, the board voted to award the bid for public safety communications equipment maintenance at the Carbon County 911 communications center to current provider TuWay Communications of Bethlehem. The terms of the contract are for three years at a cost of $341,514.

The commissioners also adopted a new pre-employment drug testing policy/psychological evaluation policy for the Carbon County Correctional Facility. The new policy states that new hires at the prison must pay for their drug and psychological evaluations a cost of $150 up front. That fee is then held until the new employee at the prison completes 30 eight-hour shifts at the facility. The employee is then reimbursed the $150 fee at the end of the 30 shift probationary period.

The reason for the change was because of the quick turnover of correctional officers at the prison. The county used to cover the costs for the testing up front and then lose out on the $150 because the employee would come to one shift and then quit. This now helps the county save money and possibly cut down on the turnover rate.

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