Ronnie Polaneczky: Advocates battle voter-IDiocy

Hydie Gold, former head of the local League of Women Voters, at a meeting Monday to train voter advocates on how to help seniors in need of a voter ID.
Hydie Gold, former head of the local League of Women Voters, at a meeting Monday to train voter advocates on how to help seniors in need of a voter ID. (RONNIE POLANECZKY/DAILY NEWS STAFF)
Posted: September 12, 2012

T HERE'S so much worry out there about the new voter-ID law.

You could feel it in the air Monday afternoon at a meeting of volunteer "voter advocates" who wanted to learn how to help seniors collect the documents needed to obtain a voter ID.

Armed with that info, they plan to help seniors at PennDOT - where the wait can be long, the forms confounding and the clerks terribly trained.

Case in point: a Fishtown woman described last week how her elderly mother had been told she needed her husband's death certificate to get a voter ID. The mother and daughter drove home for the document, only to learn, upon returning to PennDOT, that it hadn't been needed in the first place.

Makes you want to punch a wall, doesn't it? At least the mother's daughter helped navigate the nonsense. What about seniors who aren't so lucky?

As voter advocate Janet Kroll told me: "When you have 30 to 50 elderly people sitting in chairs at PennDOT at 8th &Arch, among the hundreds of applicants, the mind boggles! They may get faint, may need to go to the bathroom or have a drink of water, or a snack, or an aspirin. Volunteers will be needed to get them through this ordeal even before they get to the counter!"

Heidi Gold, former head of the local League of Women Voters, was at Monday's meeting, to offer guidance to the advocates. So was Karen Buck, head of Philly's Senior Law Center. The meeting was supposed to have been held at the center, but so many volunteers registered to attend that it was moved to William Penn House, on Chestnut Street.

You know who wasn't there to answer questions or lend frontline insight about helping the elderly get their ID act together?

Anyone from PennDOT.

Gold tells me that, last Friday, PennDot's Scott Shenk, chief of driver-licensing, declined Gold's request to have a PennDOT rep meet with the voter advocates.

"He said it would be seen as a 'partnership,' so PennDOT could be liable if anything happened" to the advocates at the PennDOT centers, claims Gold.

"He also said that, if they let volunteers with the League of Women Voters" roam the centers, looking for old heads to help, PennDOT would "have to let in every group that wanted to come in. They didn't want to set a precedent."

Shenk added that the voter advocates would have to stay outside the centers, on the sidewalk, or risk being "removed."

Says Gold, "If someone promised to feed my dog and then bail me out, I'd gladly get arrested if it helped someone get a voter ID."

Shenk didn't return my call for comment yesterday. But PennDOT spokeswoman Jan McKnight says that there must have been a miscommunication between Shenk and Gold, because PennDOT is working closely with all kinds of groups that are helping seniors and others to obtain a voter ID.

Specifically, she says, PennDOT can scour its database for records of former drivers whose photo, birth date and other identification are still on file. Once found, the information can be used to issue a voter ID, sparing the headache of digging up additional documentation.

"We're working with all kinds of agencies to do this," McKnight says.

And on Monday, PennDOT announced that it would add Thursday evening hours, starting Sept. 27 and ending Nov. 8, at five PennDOT locations in Philadelphia, since most of the voter-ID activity has been in the city.

Well, good. But these measures still don't address what it's like to actually be at a PennDOT center - some of which feel like the Seventh Circle of Hell.

Please share, Evelyn Eskin.

"I spent five hours at PennDOT, and it was just to get my driver's license renewed," says Eskin, a board member of Friends Center City, a Quaker-affiliated group that helps seniors create an "intentional community" in Philly through social, cultural and volunteer activities. Monday's meeting was chock-a-block with dynamos from Eskin's group.

" Five hours," she repeats, "and I didn't even need anything fancy! The idea that somehow these [PennDOT] people will suddenly get some customer-service skills, now that voter-ID is here, well, it's just so weird."

No weirder, sadly, than the phony notion that we ever needed a voter ID law in the first place.

To learn more about becoming a voter advocate, email Or attend a voter-advocate meeting on Thursday at the Senior Law Center, 100 S. Broad St., from 5:30.-6:30 p.m.

Contact Ronnie Polaneczky at or 215-854-2217. Follow her on Twitter @RonniePhilly. Read her blog at, or for recent columns go to

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