Help is plentiful for obtaining voter ID

Catherine Keys, 84, waits to get her ID at the PennDot office on Arch Street.
Catherine Keys, 84, waits to get her ID at the PennDot office on Arch Street. (SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff)
Posted: August 23, 2012

With Pennsylvania's controversial new voter-ID law in the headlines for the last few months, older residents of Philadelphia are finding no shortage of help in getting the documents they need to vote.

Volunteers and organizations are shuttling the elderly to Department of Transportation licensing offices. Groups like the Committee of Seventy are issuing pamphlets to clarify the law's requirements. And PennDot has relaxed its rules to make the process easier for seniors who lack some necessary documents.

Catherine Keys, 84, of North Philadelphia, went to the Arch Street PennDot center Tuesday afternoon. She was at first frustrated by the crowds and the 100-minute wait. She has diabetes and feared her blood sugar would dip if she had to wait for hours.

But once her number was called, it was smooth sailing.

"Where you going, gorgeous? Come on over here," said the clerk, waving Keys over to Window 12.

After thumbing through Keys' documents - Social Security card, birth certificate, and a couple of mailed items - the clerk asked if she had a marriage certificate or something to connect her birth name with her current name. Keys did not.

A minute later, the clerk looked up from the computer - "Thank you, Jesus," she said. "You're already in here." Keys had a nondriver ID that expired in 1995, so the clerk was able to issue a new one. (State officials have said PennDot IDs that expired in 1990 or later should be retrievable.)

When asked if the renewal had saved Keys from a second trip, the clerk said, "No, I probably would have gotten my supervisor to come and take care of her."

Keys said she could not have gotten the ID without the help of volunteers. "I can't see, I can't hear, I can't walk," she said. "I'm glad arrangements were made to get me here."

Keys and a neighbor from the Nellie Reynolds Garden apartments were the first seniors to take advantage of a free voter-ID shuttle service being offered by Trans Mercy Ambulance, based in Northeast Philadelphia.

The company's director of operations, Jeff Pressley, said he was surprised by the volume of requests so far. He's scheduling several trips this week, next week, and "maybe even after the election," he said, "so they'll have it for next time."

For Keys' neighbor, 84-year-old Earline Pankey, Tuesday's trip was a whirlwind. After getting settled into the PennDot waiting room, Pankey was told by a fellow client that she could use her passport to vote. It doesn't expire until 2020.

Within minutes, Pankey returned to the shuttle and Pressley took her home. "I just hate they send me all the way down here" she said, when she didn't need another ID at all.

A woman in Pankey's building - a poll worker for the city's Board of Elections - had told her that the passport wasn't enough, that she needed a separate voting-only ID. Pankey's complaint has been a common one in the preparations for the state's first election requiring photo ID - well-meaning volunteers spreading incorrect or confusing information.

The poll worker was referring, albeit inaccurately, to the new IDs that will be issued by PennDot starting Friday, which can't be used for any purpose other than voting.

State officials are calling it the "DOS safety net," as it will be issued on behalf of the Department of State to cover people like Keys who don't have the required documents for a secure driver's license or nondriver ID. But it appears that many of those people are being granted secure IDs anyway.

In the end, Keys said, the process wasn't too bad, and she's relieved that she'll be able to vote in November - "the right [that] people fought and died for."

She said she had never missed an election and urged others who need ID "to find the determination to get down here and do it."


Contact Jessica Parks at 215-854-2771 or jparks@philly.com.

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