Woman's ordeal shows voter-ID pitfalls

Sherry Skramstad has a harness-racing license and many other seemingly official forms of ID but could not get a Pa. driver's license.
Sherry Skramstad has a harness-racing license and many other seemingly official forms of ID but could not get a Pa. driver's license.
Posted: July 18, 2012

Sherry Skramstad, a 70-year-old Scranton woman, has had a busy, eclectic life: 32 years as a special-education teacher in New York City and state, 17 years as a licensed horse breeder and trainer, publicity director for three racetracks in Pennsylvania and New York state, a freelance writer for newspapers in New York and Wilkes-Barre, and the author of a 2007 book about her sister, who was born with Down syndrome.

She has been voting since she was first eligible in the 1960s, Skramstad said. Since moving from New York to Scranton in November, she registered to vote in Pennsylvania and cast a ballot in the April primary.

But until this week, she was worried that she would be unable to vote in November, thanks to Pennsylvania's new voter-ID requirement.

The basic problem: After two marriages and two divorces, the name on her birth certificate - Sharon Tenzer - is different from the name she has been using for more than 30 years.

And until The Inquirer called the state Department of Transportation last week to inquire about her case, PennDot was telling Skramstad she could not get a Pennsylvania driver's license - the photo ID she will need to vote - unless she could document her name changes, requiring a 50-year-old marriage certificate from North Carolina and a 46-year-old divorce decree from Mexico.

"I have never felt so old and so discriminated against," Skramstad said. "It's not like I worked in a Burger King all my life. I've had a valid New York driver's license since 1974, a real estate license, and a harness racing license."

"These are all state-issued things, and I have plenty of documentation. But they say they won't accept anything without birth and marriage certificates and the divorce documents. . . . I feel like I'm living in the 16th century."

She has been wrestling with the problem since late March or early April, she said, when she visited a PennDot office in Dunmore, hoping to convert her New York state driver's license to Pennsylvania's.

Besides a current passport or a copy of her birth certificate, PennDot told Skramstad that all documents would have to show the same name and date of birth. She said she was given a paper that said, "If you are using a name other than your birth name, you will be required to provide your marriage license or other name change documents."

Similar language is on PennDot's website, http://www.dmv.state.pa.us.

The situation got more critical when Skramstad's car was totaled in a May 1 accident. She discovered she could not buy or lease another vehicle without a Pennsylvania license.

In the last two months, she said, she has called the governor's office in Wilkes-Barre, her state legislators, the state's Office of Aging, Pennsylvania's two U.S. senators, and the Mexican consulate in Washington, hoping to secure her divorce decree. None had been effective, she said, though the Office of Aging had contacted PennDot and reported it would not relax any of its requirements.

The governor's office provided a phone number for the Mexican consulate. After a long recorded message, Skramstad waited 20 minutes for someone to pick up the phone, then she gave up.

Last week, she e-mailed The Inquirer in response to an article about voter-ID requirements.

The Inquirer called Jan McKnight, a PennDot spokeswoman. McKnight said that on her first visit to a driver licensing center, Skramstad should have been referred to a supervisor to talk about "exception processing," the possibility of getting PennDot ID with only some of the documentation that PennDot normally requires.

McKnight arranged for Bernard Biros, northeast Pennsylvania director for the PennDot's Division of Motor Vehicles, to call Skramstad last Tuesday afternoon.

"He very patiently listened to my whole story, asked about my different documents, and we chatted about harness racing," Skramstad said.

She still needs her birth certificate, which Skramstad has already ordered from New York. "He gave me his personal cellphone number and said to call him as soon as I get the birth certificate. Then he'll have me come into Dunmore to get my driver's license," she said.

While pleased at the latest developments, Skramstad said, it was clear that she was getting special treatment because of the newspaper's inquiries and that PennDot should be flexible with everyone.

"It shouldn't have to be specific documents," Skramstad said. "You should bring in whatever you have - tax returns, utility bills, your out-of-state license - and let the person at PennDot decide if that is sufficient to be granted a license."

Her pique rose as she thought about the last two months.

"A person like me, 70 years old with all these documents from state agencies, and I'm not allowed to lease a car, or vote? This is insanity," Skramstad said. "And discrimination against women - a man is born with one name and he keeps it, but there are thousands of women whose names change just like mine did."

Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

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