PA Department of State to eliminate two-trips-to-PennDOT requirement
The Committee of Seventy, has another notch in its belt in the fight to help Pennsylvania voters without photo ID's.
For the first time on Election Day November 6th, voters in Pennsylvania who want to exercise their right to vote must produce one of a small handful of approved types of government-issued photo ID's. This is according to a new law, just passed in March and effective immediately during this presidential election.
Now those who are without the photo-ID's required to vote have a slightly shorter path to getting the ID they need in time to cast a vote for President.
Of a rash of similar laws recently passed in states across the country, Pennsylvania's is one of the strictest. It presents a real barrier to the ballot for some, because the process of obtaining documents necessary for official ID is forbidding - especially to those who are just finding out about the new requirements now, only weeks before the election.
Voting rights advocates have pushed the Pennsylvania Department of State (DOS), and the Department of Transportation (PennDOT), who has been tasked with issuing the ID's, to streamline the process so that every eligible voter in the state has time and opportunity to get the ID they need before November 6th.
Until late August, the only ID card available to those who had not previously possessed one of the specified forms was the PennDOT non-driver's photo ID. In response to pressure by members of the statewide Pennyslvania Voter ID Coalition, convened by the Committee of Seventy, DOS released a new Voter ID card just for use at the polls.
But initially, the process of getting the new DOS Voter ID card was no easier than getting the PennDOT ID: all the steps in the application process for the PennDOT ID had to be exhausted before the Voter ID could be obtained.
Oh yes, it's confusing. And intimidating. But on top of that it was, in very practical terms, impossible to do for some voters. In part because for many, the process involved two trips to PennDOT Driver's License Centers, and up to ten days waiting for a letter in between.
Thanks to continued pressure from the Coalition, starting next week it will be possible to obtain the DOS Voter ID card in only one trip to a PennDOT center.
What this means might be hard for some to grasp. What some middle-class voters - those with ordinary access to services - may not realize is that even one trip to PennDOT can be a tall order for some. For those folks who already have a driver's license, a car, a flexible work schedule, and an able body; for those with use of a computer, to find out locations and hours, and download forms to save time at the PennDOT Center, the challenge is hard to fathom.
But for those with less access, this new concession from the DOS is a victory.
And for those working the ground game on this issue, who do know the unfair burden this law can create, it's a victory as well. These advocates should go to bed tonight knowing that there will be a few more hands clutching ballots on November 6th, due to their efforts.
Here is a copy of the press release just issued.
Clean and effective government. Fair elections. Informed citizens.
Eight Penn Center, 1628 JFK Blvd., Ste. 1002
Philadelphia, PA, 19103
PA Department of State to eliminate two-trips-to-PennDOT requirement
PHILADELPHIA – September 14, 2012 – A revised procedure to go into effect by the end of next week will now permit all Pennsylvanians who need a photo ID to vote on November 6 to get one by making one trip to a PennDOT Driver’s License Center.
Currently, Pennsylvania-born voters who brought a Social Security card to PennDOT, but not a birth certificate, were required to make two trips to PennDOT before getting a photo ID.
“The Department of State deserves a lot of credit for coming up with a quicker and easier way to get a photo ID,” said Zack Stalberg, President and CEO of the non-partisan Committee of Seventy, which prompted DOS to make the change. Reports from the 175-member PA Voter ID Coalition confirmed that requiring two trips to PennDOT was standing in the way of many Pennsylvania-born voters who do not already have a photo ID that will be accepted at the polls to get one to vote.
The PA Voter ID Coalition was convened by the Committee of Seventy after the voter ID law was enacted last March to conduct a non-partisan campaign to make all Pennsylvania voters aware of the voter ID law and to motivate voters without an acceptable form of photo ID to obtain one in time to vote on November 6.
Currently, Pennsylvania-born voters who bring a Social Security card, but not an official copy of their birth certificate, to a PennDOT Driver’s License Center, must have their birth records certified by the Department of Health. The birth record certification letter, which usually arrives in ten days, must be brought back to PennDOT, along with the voter’s Social Security card and two proofs of residency, in order to get a PennDOT photo ID.
The new expedited process will allow the same voters (who have a Social Security card) to have their birth records electronically certified while they are waiting at PennDOT. The same-day photo ID process has already been available since August 27 for voters who need a special Department of State ID because they don’t have the required documents to get a photo ID, including:
• Pennsylvania-born voters who come to PennDOT without a Social Security card – even if they do not have a birth certificate.
• Voters born outside Pennsylvania if they don’t have or can’t get a birth certificate or Social Security card – or can’t get them without paying a fee.
The DOS ID can only be used to vote, while the PennDOT photo ID can also be used for non-voting purposes, such as entering a building or cashing a check.
“With less than eight weeks to go before November 6, there is a shrinking window of opportunity to get a photo ID,” observed Stalberg, who added that the two-trip requirement effectively closed that window in mid-October. “A same-day photo ID process allows voters to get a photo ID as late as November 6,” he said, although he underscored that the PA Voter ID Coalition is strongly urging voters not to wait until the final days before the election to get a photo ID.
According to Stalberg, the new photo ID procedure does not interfere with the lawsuit to block implementation of the voter ID law, which is now in the hands of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. “All the arguments have been made. Educating voters can’t afford to wait for the final outcome,” he concluded. “This is a win for voters and a win for everyone, including the Department of State, working very hard to make sure that every voter is prepared to vote on November 6.”
(215) 557-3000, ext. 106, (267) 241-1628 (cell)
Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, VP and Policy Director
(215) 557-3600, ext. 102, (215) 470-8316 (cell)
Comprehensive information about the PA Voter ID Coalition, the voter ID law, and resources available to help voters get a photo ID for voting can be found at www.seventy.org/voterID.