Survey cites difficulties getting Pa. voter ID

Posted: August 04, 2012

HARRISBURG - Long lines. Little signage. Limited hours. Misinformed staff.

With three months before the November election, these are among the difficulties facing voters trying to get nondriver ID at PennDot locations statewide to comply with the state's new voter ID law, according to a survey released Friday by a left-leaning policy-research organization.

The state Department of Transportation immediately rejected the findings, saying its staff was well-prepared.

Dozens of volunteers working with the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, which conducted the survey, visited 43 PennDot centers in 28 counties and reported that the centers lacked basic signage and provided little information about the availability of free ID.

Some volunteers received incomplete and inaccurate information about fees and requirements, the report stated, even from PennDot employees who said they were aware of the law. And in almost three out of 10 cases, individuals were told they must pay for ID that should have been provided at no cost, the survey found.

"Our observers found little information and a lot of confusion about the voter ID law at PennDot offices," said Sharon Ward, director of the center and the report's author.

Four people who served as volunteer PennDot "testers" testified in court about similar findings during the weeklong hearing on the voter ID law.

A senior PennDot official denied Friday that workers were ill-prepared and that the centers were not providing full and accurate information.

"Our employees have been well-educated on the law," said Kurt Myers, PennDot's deputy secretary for safety. "The reality is, folks are well-versed."

The ACLU and other groups are seeking an injunction to block the law's implementation in November, arguing that it creates barriers to voting and therefore violates the constitutional rights of citizens.

Commonwealth attorneys, who contend the plaintiffs failed to meet the burden of proof regarding the law's effect on voters, attacked the testimony of the testers in court. Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Cawley said the testimony should be discounted because the individuals acknowledged they were opposed to the voter ID law.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson said he would issue a ruling the week of Aug. 13. Both sides have said they will appeal.

Among those who spoke on a conference call with reporters Friday was Tom Gemmill of Lancaster County, whose 97-year-old father, Lewis, has voted in every election since Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for his second term in 1936.

Gemmill said he and his father, who uses a wheelchair or a walker depending on how far he has to go, had to make separate trips to two different licensing centers because the first only processed photos and was unable to issue the ID.

Then they were told by a receptionist they would have to pay for the ID before having to wait for 90 minutes to complete the process, Gemmill said.

Since the law was signed by Gov. Corbett in March, PennDot has issued 3,400 nondriver IDs for voting purposes, state officials said.

But Ward said the survey results are evidence that the state is not ready for the new law and that its implementation should be delayed, something the administration said was impossible.

The law takes effect Sept. 17 and the administration has no authority to delay its implementation, said Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman.

The center made several other recommendations that it said could improve access for voters, including:

Mobile ID units for voters who lack transportation.

More information at PennDot sites.

Better training of staff.

More locations where voting ID can be obtained.

Lack of access to driver's license offices was one of the reasons prompting a federal court to strike down Georgia's original voter ID law, the report said. Georgia later amended its law to require that every county provide at least one place where ID could be obtained.

Myers said the state had no plans to expand PennDot hours because there was no indication of any higher demand for services with the law.

He added, "PennDot is committed to ensuring every individual who needs an ID can get an ID."

Ruman said informational posters have been mailed to all 71 PennDot licensing sites.

Ward cautioned that unless steps are taken to improve access for voters, many will be disenfranchised.

"If people lose their right to vote," she said, "that would be a tragedy for Pennsylvania."


Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com, or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.

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