Pennsylvania lowers one voter-ID hurdle, but for many, others remain

"It is certainly a welcome change any time you remove barriers and make the process cheaper; that's a good thing. But it does not go nearly far enough in enabling all registered voters to get the necessary ID." - Vic Walczak Legal director for the Pa. ACLU
"It is certainly a welcome change any time you remove barriers and make the process cheaper; that's a good thing. But it does not go nearly far enough in enabling all registered voters to get the necessary ID." - Vic Walczak Legal director for the Pa. ACLU
Posted: May 28, 2012

Amid the complexities of Pennsylvania's new voter identification law, the news release sent out from Harrisburg on Wednesday promised to make things simpler.

The Corbett administration was announcing it had worked out a way for PennDot to check with the state Health Department to verify state birth records - a "simplified method to obtain photo ID for Pennsylvania-born voters," said the headline on the Department of State release.

It may be simplified, but it still isn't simple.

The new wrinkle will lower one of the multiple hurdles the law has created for some of the people who don't have driver's licenses and need other forms of photo ID to vote in November's general election.

Instead of having to locate their original birth certificates or pay $10 to apply for an official copy, would-be voters who were born in Pennsylvania will now be able to ask PennDot to verify their birth from state health records, without paying a fee to buy a new birth certificate.

But the procedure helps only people born in Pennsylvania, not citizens born in other states or in other countries.

Plus, it will require an extra trip to one of PennDOT's driver's license centers to pick up a nondriver identification card, once the voter's birth is authenticated.

To put the process in motion, the individual will have to make a preliminary visit to the same driver's license center, armed with other pieces of identification - a Social Security card (absolutely required for all applicants) and at least two proofs of residency, such as utility bills, lease agreements, mortgage documents, or tax records showing a current address.

Misplace your Social Security card? Here's how to get a new one: Provide the Social Security Administration with a certified copy of your driver's license (if you had one, you probably wouldn't be in the market for a nondriver ID), a state-issued nondriver ID (the thing you need your Social Security card to obtain) or your U.S. passport (if you had one of those, you could vote in November without needing to worry about any of this).

The Social Security Administration says it will also accept other documents, such as employee ID cards, school ID cards, health insurance cards, or U.S. military ID.

How simple is that?

The state's new birth-certification rule won't help any of 10 individuals who are suing to get the voter-ID law thrown out as a violation of the state constitution, according to Vic Walczak, legal director for the Pennsylvania ACLU, one of the entities handling legal work in the case. (The others include the NAACP and League of Women Voters.)

"It is certainly a welcome change any time you remove barriers and make the process cheaper; that's a good thing," Walczak said Friday in an interview. "But it does not go nearly far enough in enabling all registered voters to get the necessary ID."

In some cases, he said, the change may even increase the burden on people who don't drive by requiring them to visit PennDot twice: first, to deliver the mandated documents; then - about 10 days later, according to the state's estimates - to pick up the nondriver ID after the applicant's birth has been verified.

"We're talking about people who are elderly or immobile; by definition, people who don't drive," Walczak said. "How many people would be discouraged from voting if they were told, 'You've got to take three buses, or get 50 miles across Elk County, to get to a PennDot license center, and you've got to do it twice?' "

The Department of State might not be done tinkering with how to carry out the law Gov. Corbett signed in March. Spokesman Matthew Keeler said the department was still working with other agencies "to look for ways we can make this transition easier for everyone. . . . We're trying to help everybody out."

Meanwhile, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson set a July 25 date to begin several days' hearings on the request by Walczak's clients for a preliminary injunction to block the voter-ID law from taking effect for the Nov. 6 election.

The judge said he expected to issue a decision a week or so after the hearings, according to Walczak, leaving plenty of time for the state Supreme Court to review the situation in August and September.


Contact Bob Warner

at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

Amy Worden of the Inquirer Harrisburg Bureau contributed

to this report.

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