The Pennsylvania Department of State announced this week it will provide a free "safety net" photo-ID card, for registered voters who are unable to obtain an official PennDOT photo ID.
The nation watching may be excused for thinking this will enable many of the hundreds of thousands of voters without ID to vote in this election. In fact, shortcomings in the system continue to create barriers, and it is still very possible that many registered voters will not be able to participate in this year's election.
The safety net ID is intended to be a last recourse only, and a person seeking this ID must first take steps to obtain a regular PennDOT photo ID.
To obtain a PennDOT ID, a registered voter must appear in person at a driver's license center and present a raised-seal birth certificate, a Social Security card, and two forms of proof of residence, such as a lease and a current utility bill.
If the registered voter is not in possession of a raised-seal copy of the birth certificate, these steps must be taken:
- go in person to a PennDOT driver's license center; present a Social Security card and two proofs of residence
- sign an affirmation stating you do not have a birth certificate
- fill out a form requesting a non-driver's PennDOT ID
- fill out a form requesting certification of birth record
- return home and wait up to ten days for a letter from the health department
- return to the letter PennDOT driver's license center
- if the health department letter certifies your birth, you can get your PennDOT ID
- If the health department letter indicates the health department is unable to verify birth, then you can get a "safety net" ID.
Ellen Kaplan, Vice President and Policy Director at the Committee of Seventy, a non-partisan Philadelphia organization that works for fair elections, submitted inquiries to the Department of State as to whether there was a way a voter could obtain the safety net ID in one visit. Answers were unclear, and even implied that this might depend depend on the judgement of the DOT employee the voter encounters the day of their visit. Asked if a voter might be able to obtain a same-day ID, a DOS representative responded that voters were encouraged to bring "all the documentation they have with them," and the PennDOT clerk "will determine if the registered voter has all the necessary documentation" for the regular non-driver's PennDOT photo ID. If the PennDOT clerk "determines that the customer does not have all the necessary documentation" and can't get it, the clerk will "begin the process of issuing" the safety net ID. "Assuming the customer meets the requirements, a (safety net ID) will be issued and the customer will leave with the ID card."
This ID is intended to be a last resort "save" so that no registered voter will be blocked from voting this November. But it can only act as a save if a registered voter without government-issued photo ID learns about the new requirements before election day and has enough time to obtain one. It will only work if the voter understands this set of requirements for getting the ID, and has access to a driver's license center during business hours. Rural voters, elderly voters, voters without transportation or time off work will be even less able to obtain ID.
If the new requirements prevented a single registered voter from casting a ballot in a presidential election, it would be an egregious injustice. Unfortunately, even with wide disparities in estimates for how many voters will be affected, no one disputes that there are hundreds of thousands of registered Pennsylvania voters who do not possess government issued photo ID. Also undisputed is the fact that this law disproportionately impacts minority voters.
By virtue of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the law should be illegal.
"No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color."