Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, part of the state Republican machinery which pushed voter ID into law in mid-March, made a surprise visit Tuesday morning to five polling places in Northeast Philadelphia and said the state's "soft rollout" appeared to be successful.
"From what I observed, most voters came with photo ID and presented it when asked to do so by poll workers," Aichele said later in a press release. "This law will help prevent legal votes from being canceled or diluted by illegally cast ballots."
But at various locations in the Philadelphia area, some voters reported they were not even asked for ID, and at other polling places, election-day workers made clear that compliance was optional.
"Would you like to vote with your ID, or without your ID?," voters were asked at the Lamb of God Chinese Church in Havertown.
In Center City's 5th ward, Democratic committeemen urged voters to protest the new law by keeping their ID in their pockets.
"The new law is being challenged in state and federal court, and we think there is a good chance it will be struck down," committee members Mary Jane Barrett and David Appelbaum wrote in a letter given to Democratic voters.
One who took their advice was Elizabeth Mell, 45. "I told them I decline to present it," said Mell, who works at a law firm. "I think voter ID is a slippery slope to erecting barriers that prevent citizens from exercising their rights. It's a scare tactic."
At polling places in Chestnut Hill and Roxborough, poll workers asked to see ID from neighbors they already recognized, gave a once-over to the photos on their driver's licenses, distributed state-approved handouts on the new voter-ID requirements and then escorted them to voting machines.
Most everyone had identification, but a few chose not to show it - on principle.
One woman, described as a feisty Democrat in her late 80s, declined to show anything to poll workers, saying that "she purposely didn't bring it, as a matter of protest," said an election judge at Cathedral Village, a retirement community in Roxborough's 21st ward. "We explained that we'd have to follow the law in November. She'll be willing, she absolutely understands."
Several women who showed up to vote at Cathedral Village expressed concern about older relatives living with them. "One woman said her mother is 101 years old. She can't get her birth certificate and her only ID is an expired driver's license," said Kathryn Bagley, a majority inspector.
Although the 101-year-old woman would have been allowed to vote Tuesday without identification, her daughter left her at home, wanting to avoid any hassle at the polls. "At 101, you want to keep her life as ascetic as possible," Bagley said.
To show her vehement disapproval, 87-year-old Lorna Carroll left her identification at home in Wynnewood's Green Hills Apartments.
"I wanted to protest this voter ID law, which I think is incredibly unfair," Carroll, a Democratic committeewoman. "It's unfair to many groups, especially to people are not mobile and who don't have a lot of opportunities to go through the headache to get proper ID."
"These people might not have the resources to get from the hospital or nursing homes to the [PennDot] offices for IDs," said Martin Rosen, 84. "I don't like it."
"We use IDs for everything else, why not for voting?" countered Howard McCue, 82, of Haverford Township. "In cases of fraud, this law is good for that reason."
Salimah Gainey, 25, of West Philadelphia, said she knew nothing about the new state law but thought it was already necessary to have ID. She had her driver's license in hand when she showed up to vote at Lea Elementary School.
"I think it may be a good idea to keep people's identity," Gainey said. "I wouldn't want somebody saying they're me and they're not."
A number of poll workers said that with compliance optional and turnout minimal because of limited interest in statewide primary races, it would be a mistake to view Tuesday's balloting as any indication of how voter ID will work in November.
Pat Peterson, judge of elections at the Lea School, said all the people she saw Tuesday were reliable voters who'd been coming to the polling place for five years or more.
"In November it will be huge turnout," she said. "We will probably have people come out to vote who have not kept up with the news and the new regulation . . . It will be interesting.
Vanessa Cottman, a judge of elections in Chester city, worried that with such a low turnout, few voters would get the notices warning that photo ID will be mandatory in November. "I think most people have ID, but will they it with them?" she asked.
Ashaki-Imani Prince, also working at that polling place, said that if November's turnout is high and people have to wait in line, they'll be less likely to return if their ID is found inadequate. "It's going to discourage people from coming back," she said.
But Claudia Dennis, judge of elections at the City Hall community center in downtown Chester, said voter ID was no problem. "It should have been that way for everyone from the beginning," she said.
Wendell P. Bright, a judge of elections in Southwest Philadelphia's 51st ward, said one woman came to his polling place at the Mitchell School with a protest sign, equating the new law with South African apartheid.
"That was ridiculous," he said, "but I think it underscores how people feel. We already have a low turnout in this division, and I'm confident that this new requirement will cut the people willing to vote in half. There's not a doubt in my mind that it's going to discourage voters."
"People are willing to comply, as far as I've seen," said Valerie Smallwood, judge of elections at the West Philly YMCA, in the 60th ward. "I don't think this will turn people away from voting, but it definitely will slow down the process and make voting more inconvenient overall."
Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or firstname.lastname@example.org.