This week in voter ID law: Hearing set for Supreme Court appeal

A hearing date has been set for the appeal of Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law requiring state-approved forms of photo identification be presented in order to cast a ballot in elections beginning with the presidential race on Nov. 6.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania will hear oral arguments in its Philadelphia City Hall courtroom beginning 9:30 a.m. Sept. 13. The session will be televised live on the Pennsylvania Cable Network.

The announcement comes on the heels of a dispute between those challenging the law, who pushed for expedited handling of the appeal to allow for a September hearing, and Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, who asked that the date be set in mid-October, three weeks before the presidential election.

A coalition of human rights organizations that filed suit in May to block the law is appealing a Commonwealth Court judge’s decision earlier this month to uphold it. The opponents argue the law is an election day ploy to give apparent Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney a leg up in Pennsylvania because the demographics less likely to have ID – students, minorities, the low-income and the elderly – are more likely to vote Democrat.

Corbett, who signed the bill in March after it passed the Legislature without a single Democratic vote, claims it is a necessary safeguard against in-person voter fraud, though the state has not been able to produce evidence proving such fraud exists.

The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting an inquiry into the legislation to determine whether it complies with the federal Voting Rights Act, but the state recently pushed back when asked to provide an extensive list documents. A top Corbett lawyer said the request was out of the Department’s scope and questioned whether it was politically-motivated.

Know your rights

As it stands now, voters must present one of the following types of identification in order to cast a ballot in November – and in every election going forward.

– A non-expired Pennsylvania driver’s license or current nondriver state photo ID from PennDOT. Those applying for IDs are required to go to a PennDOT Driver License Center (not merely a Photo ID or Examination Center, though some locations serve as all three) and:

  1. Fill out form DL-54A – an application for an initial photo identification card
  2. Show a Social Security card AND
  3. A birth certificate with a raised seal, a certificate of U.S. citizenship or naturalization OR a valid U.S. passport AND
  4. TWO proofs of residence, including deeds, lease agreements, current utility bills, mortgage documents, W-2 forms, bank statements, paystubs, credit card bills OR tax records. For students, those also include room assignment paperwork and one bill with their dorm room address on it.
  5. Those who do not have two forms of residency proof may bring to PennDOT the person who they are living with, along with that person’s driver’s license or photo ID as ONE proof of residence.
  6. Pay a $13.50 fee via check or money order payable to PennDOT – cash is NOT accepted.

– A valid U.S. passport

– A current local, state or federal government employee photo ID with expiration dates printed on it

– A current military photo ID with expiration dates printed on it or with a signed statement that it does not expire

– A current student photo ID from an accredited Pennsylvania college or university with expiration dates printed on it

– A photo ID from a licensed care facility with expiration dates printed on it

– A free, voter-only ID announced last month that will become available from PennDOT this week for those that are unable to obtain a birth certificate, passport or certification of citizenship or naturalization. To obtain that ID, voters have to:

  1. Visit a PennDOT Drivers License Center and tell a worker they are a Pennsylvanian who needs an ID for voting purposes and does not have a birth certificate or acceptable alternative
  2. Sign an oath declaring they do not have acceptable ID for voting purposes
  3. Show a Social Security card AND two proofs of residence as listed above for a driver’s license or nondriver photo ID.
  4. Fill out a DL-54A form for a non-driver photo ID
  5. Fill out a Dept. of Health HD01564F form – Request for Certification of Birth Record for Voter ID Purposes Only – which asks for an applicant’s birth name, mother’s and father’s names and place of birth.
  6. Wait to receive notification that their birth record has been confirmed by the Dept. of Health – an estimated 10 days.
  7. Return to a PennDOT Drivers License Center with the confirmation, the oath, the DL-54A form, their Social Security card AND two proofs of residence to receive the ID.

– People without the required ID on election day will be permitted to fill out a
provisional ballot that will be counted if they return with an
acceptable form of photo ID and proof they are the same person who cast
the provisional ballot return within six days, though, as the original
petition for review notes, two of those days are on the weekend when
government offices are closed.

Civic confusion

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center earlier this month reported that confusion surrounding voter ID requirements was widespread at PennDOT locations where IDs are issued and expressed doubt that the agency would be able to uniformly and effectively roll out the new voter ID, given the problems already occurring with existing changes.

Volunteers in June and July conducted a random survey of 43 state driver’s licensing centers – which together serve 73 percent of the state’s population – in 28 counties. They found:

– The birth record certification form required to obtain a free voter ID was not readily available or only
offered if a volunteer specifically requested it in 53 percent of the visits. Workers during those visits did not inform volunteers that completion of that form was mandatory.

– Causing further confusion, PennDOT Photo ID Centers do not themselves issue photo IDs. Voters must first go to a Driver’s License Center – not a location that serves as only a Photo ID Center or only an Examination Center – to fill out the necessary paperwork. In some locations, the three services are housed under one roof, while in others they are separate.

– Signs in the reception area advertising the availability of voter IDs were present in only 13 percent of visits.

– There were neither signs nor readily available written information about free IDs in nearly half of the centers.

– Volunteers were given incomplete or inaccurate information about free voter IDs by PennDOT staff in 48 percent of the visits.

– Volunteers were not initially told that a voter ID could be acquired for free in 81 percent of visits.

– Volunteers were incorrectly told they would be charged the standard $13.50 state-issued ID fee to obtain a voter ID in 30 percent of the visits.

– 20 percent of volunteers had to return to the driver’s license center at another time because it was closed.

– Out of 67 counties, only seven – less than 11 percent – are served by more than one driver’s license center.

For further assistance

For more information about the voter ID law and how to get the required identification:

PennDOT has a voter ID page on its website and customer service representatives can be reached Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. at 1-800-932-4600.

The Pennsylvania Department of State is available during weekday business hours at 1-877-VOTESPA (868-3772) or through its website.

The Voter ID Coalition can be reached at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (687-8683) and more information about the civic groups involved can be found on the Committee of Seventy’s website.

The Committee of Seventy has a page with the latest on the voter ID law legal challenge, election day guides and information about what documentation is required with links to all of the necessary forms for obtaining photo identification.

The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C. has launched an Election Protection Android and iPhone app allowing voters to look up their registration status and polling place, familiarize themselves with the type of voting machine they will use, report problems and submit voter-related inquiries and access a frequently asked questions guide for their state.

For those who need transportation to a PennDOT Center:

SEPTA has a list of PennDOT addresses and the public transportation routes that serve them in Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Philadelphia counties on its website.

State Rep. Louise Bishop’s Citizens for Bishop is offering seniors interested in obtaining voter identiifcation a free ride to a PennDOT ID center via TransMercy Ambulance. The service is available Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. To schedule an appointment, call 215-464-7775.

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