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Election Special: The ID Dilemma

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By Tom Ferrick Jr.

Pennsylvania's new photo ID law divides the state's voters into the haves and the have nots.

Those who have a valid and current Pennsylvania drivers license will find it easy to comply with the new law, which requires voters to show a photo ID.  They will just have to remember to bring their license with them to their polling place and produce it for election workers before they vote.

Those who do not have a drivers license are in for a tougher time.  They will have to jump though a number of hoops before they can get the kind of photo ID the state isVoters voting.jpg requiring.

The common assumption is that most people have drivers licenses.  That assumption is incorrect.

There are 1.6 million adult Pennsylvanians without drivers licenses, a number equal to 17 percent of all adults in the state.

In areas where there is a concentration of poor and elderly the numbers are higher.  In Philadelphia, for instance, 470,000 adults do not have a drivers license, a number equal to 40 percent of those 18 and older in the city.

What will those folks have to do to obtain a state-issued ID?

Let us count the steps:


1. You must first have a valid birth certificate. It cannot be a photocopy. It must have a raised seal, the same kind notaries use.  If you do not have such a copy, you can get one from the state Health Department's Division of Vital Statistics, using the appropriate state form.  Each certificate costs $10. If you mail it in, it will take 10 to 12 weeks to obtain the certificate, according to state Health Department officials. You can also go online and, using a credit card, apply for a certificate. This service costs $20.  It will take two to three weeks to get it via the web. Or, you can go to a regional vital statistics office, pay the $10 fee and get same-day or next-day service.  There is one such office in Philadelphia, at 110 North 8th Street, Suite 108.


2.  If your name does not match the birth certificate, you will have to show proof that your name has changed. For instance, it you changed your name when you were married you can produce your marriage license.  If you have lost your license, you can get one from the Register of Wills in Philadelphia in City Hall for a fee of $35.


3. A Social Security card.  If you have lost your card, you can apply for a replacement.  To get one, you will have to offer proof of your ID and also provide a copy of your birth certificate.  You can walk the application to the local Social Security Office -- there are nine in Philadelphia -- or you can mail in the form.  It takes 10 days to two weeks to get it via the mails.


4. Two proofs of residency, such as a lease agreement, a utility bill, a W-2 form or tax records.  Suppose you are a 26 year old who lost his job and had to move back home to live with your parents.  You don't have a lease. You don't pay for utilities.  Your last W2 was from when you had your own apartment. What happens then?  You can bring a parent to vouch for you when you apply for an ID and must also bring one additional proof of residency.


5. Once you get this information together, you must take it to the nearest PennDOT license office and present it to the clerk. They will check the validity of the material, take a picture and supply you with a non-drivers photo ID that will be accepted by election officials. Normally, the state charges $13.50 for the IDs.  Under the voter ID law, these non-driver ID's are free.

There are four PennDOT license offices in Philadelphia: one is at 800 Arch Street, another is on Columbus Boulevard in South Philly.  If you have not been to one of these offices, be forewarned: the lines are long; waiting time can be longer.  Some are closed on Mondays, others stop taking pictures after 3 p.m.  Check before you go.

Under the new law, Tuesday's primary will be a dry run.  Voters will be asked to produce a valid photo ID as enumerated in the law.  If they do not have one, they will still be permitted to vote.

In November, however, when the law goes into effect in full, they will not be permitted to vote.  Instead, they will fill out provisional ballots and will be given six days to bring the required valid proofs required by the law. If they do not, their votes will be tossed as invalid.

The ACLU and NAACP have announced plans to sue to challenge the new law as discriminatory, but it doubtful they could win such a case this year.  The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 2008 case involving an Indiana law, ruled that photo IDs for voters are not inherently discriminatory. 

According to Keesha Baskins, senior counsel at the Brennan Center on elections at New York University, the Pennsylvania law closely tracks the Indiana law with an eye to surviving such court challenges.

While the law may be immune from suits challenging it in theory, that does not mean it won't be discriminatory in practice. What it means, Baskins said, is that we will have to have experience in how the law plays out in Pennsylvania. If it turns out to be a barrier, suits can be brought in the name of individual voters.

The primary won't be a true test of the law. Turnout will be in the teens; voters without ID's will be permitted to vote.  The real test will be in November, with the presidency on the top of the ballot, an election that will draw many more millions of voters to the polls, many of them the have-nots when it comes to having the appropriate ID.


Follow this link to a Committee of Seventy FAQ about the new photo ID law. 







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