New ‘voter-only’ photo ID card is unveiled

Posted: August 28, 2012

HARRISBURG - With 10 weeks until Election Day, the Department of State rolled out Monday a new photo identification card designed to help those who have exhausted other options for complying with Pennsylvania's new voter ID law.

Voters who lack the documents necessary for a Pennsylvania nondriver's ID card will now be able to obtain a free Department of State voter identification card at Department of Transportation driver's license centers.

"Our goal is to ensure that every person who needs an ID can get one, and this new ID serves as a safety net for those who can't find or obtain verification documents normally required for a PennDot secure identification card," said Transportation Secretary Barry J. Schoch.

The plan for the "voter-only" cards was announced this summer after it became clear that some voters, particularly elderly people born in other states, were running into an array of difficulties obtaining their birth certificates or Social Security cards.

Unlike the nondriver's ID, which requires a raised-seal birth certificate and Social Security card, the new ID requires applicants to provide just their name, address, Social Security number, proof of residency, and previous name and/or address if either changed in the preceding 12 months.

The applicant must also be registered to vote.

Opponents of the new voting law, signed by Gov. Corbett in March, argue that getting the new ID is still complicated - particularly for those without transportation, non-English speakers, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.

Stephanie Singer, who as chairwoman of the Board of City Commissioners is Philadelphia's top elections officer, said the new cards may help some voters. But she worried that problems may remain for Spanish-speakers and people who are deaf or have other disabilities. "I know of no accommodations by PennDot," she said. "That doesn't mean they don't exist. I just haven't seen them."

Individuals needing ID will still likely have to make more than one trip to a PennDot office, critics pointed out.

Witold "Vic" Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which sued the state on behalf of clients it said were being denied voting rights by the new law, said, "If the state were truly committed to making sure all voters have ID, they would simply issue the new nonsecure ID right away instead of making voters jump through multiple hoops and take several trips to the DMV."

A Commonwealth Court judge denied the ACLU's request to block the law. An appeal is scheduled for arguments in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Sept. 13.

The new ID card is valid only for voting. Other acceptable forms of ID at the polls include valid driver's licenses, PennDot nondriver photo ID, and U.S. passports, as well as military, government employee or college student IDs with expiration dates.

The state's Monday rollout of the new card occurred only in Pittsburgh because most other motor vehicle centers around the state, including those in Philadelphia, are either closed or offering limited services on Mondays.

Most PennDot offices are open Tuesday through Saturday. Some counties have no motor vehicle centers, and in some areas those that do are only open one day a week.

On Monday at the PennDot office at Eighth and Arch Streets in Philadelphia, for instance, several small posters pointed to voter ID card applications available in English and Spanish. Anyone seeking a voter ID card or information about it would have to come back during regular hours - Tuesday through Saturday between 8 a.m. and 4:15 p.m.

Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman said PennDot has issued 5,510 free nondriver photo IDs for voting since the new law took effect.

Leslie Richards, a Montgomery County commissioner and chairwoman of the Board of Elections, said the county is working to ensure that every voter who needs the free ID gets one, and is helping applicants get transportation to PennDot centers.

"I am fearful so many people don't know anything about this and have voted for decades," Richards said. "It won't be apparent until they get to the polls."


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

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