Confused About Voter ID? You’re Not Alone

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

The eyes of the nation are truly turned to Pennsylvania as the ACLU is back in court today challenging Pennsylvania’s strictest-in-the-nation Voter ID Law. The Commonwealth Court is hearing evidence to determine whether the new Department of State voter ID will do the trick to ensure that anyone who needs an ID can get one, for free, in time to vote in November. If the state fails to make that case, the judge could issue an injunction to prevent the law from taking effect.

Early evidence seems to indicate that could happen. As Capitolwire.com has reported (subscription), Judge Simpson indicated Tuesday he will consider an injunction and has asked lawyers to be prepared to provide input on its scope and force. 

On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center released a report on this topic exactly. The report, Moving Target: Pennsylvania’s Flawed Implementation of the Voter ID Law, asks the question: "How is PennDOT handling the new Department of State ID?" The answer, in layman’s terms, is simple: Not so good.<!–break–>

Seven months after the law was enacted, PennDOT offices still do not all have information about the Voter ID Law, including a poster prepared by the Department of State and basic fact sheets for voters to take.

Worse, we went looking for information about the new Department of State voting ID, and we couldn’t find any. The only information that was available was a press release on the topic issued on July 20 — and to get it you had to ask for it.

PBPC partnered with SEIU staff who conducted observations and interviews in 44 PennDOT driver's license centers between Sept. 10 and 17. They asked PennDOT staff what voters had to do if they wanted a voter ID and if a person who lacked certain documentation could still get an ID.

Across the state, in one-third of the cases, the staff never mentioned the Department of State ID. In close to half the cases, PennDOT staff gave information that was wrong, including telling observers that they would have to pay for the PennDOT ID.

In the most surprising finding, PennDOT staff indicated they would discourage people from getting a Department of State ID because it could only be used for voting purposes. Well, yeah, that was the whole point.

Many PennDOT staffers were genuinely interested in helping people get an ID, but the line staff, information officers and examiners were confused, couldn’t answer questions and had to get help from supervisors to provide even basic information. 

One staffer summed it up well: “We got training for what that was worth, but it’s all confusing because they keep changing things."

So guess what happened? Department of State officials announced Tuesday that they were changing the rules again. An admission that the process is still too hard for voters to get the ID.  

The grounds keep shifting and voters will pay the price. We recommend that the state delay implementation until they can get the procedures in place and everyone who needs it can get an ID. If they won’t do it, Judge Simpson should.

Chaos at the PennDOT

(Charging for an ID makes this a poll tax. – promoted by John Morgan)

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

Now that Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson has given the green light to Pennsylvania’s strictest in-the-nation Voter ID Law, tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians will have to make their way to their local PennDOT office to get a photo ID. We can tell you, it won’t be easy.

This summer, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center recruited volunteers to visit PennDOT offices across the Commonwealth and tell us about their experiences trying to obtain free photo ID under the new law. The results of that survey are in our new report, Pennsylvania’s Identity Crisis: Rushed Implementation of Voter ID Law Puts Voting Rights at Risk.

Volunteers visited 43 PennDOT centers in 27 counties across the commonwealth, representing three-quarters of the state’s population. They completed a survey that looked at very simple things: whether there was signage, if forms were available, if there was information that the IDs could be available for free, if volunteers got accurate information. We were surprised just how difficult it was for our volunteers to get the right information and the right forms – and they knew exactly what to ask for. 

The report finds that voters are likely to be frustrated in their attempts to secure a free ID from PennDOT. Some volunteers found the offices weren’t open the first time they visited and they had to return another time. There was no signage and limited information in half the sites, and the forms needed to secure a free ID were not available most of the time. In almost half the cases, voters received information that proved to be incomplete or inaccurate from staff at the centers. Problems were as likely to occur in Franklin and Luzerne counties as in Philadelphia or Allegheny County.

Providing a free ID to anyone who needs it is one of the key constitutional tests of the validity of a state’s voter ID law, and we found Pennsylvania is not making the grade. Most volunteers were not told they could have an ID for free, and in 30% of the visits, they were told incorrectly they had to pay.

Few Informed that Voter ID Could Be Obtained at No Cost

We report on a man who took 16 people from his church to the PennDOT at 8th and Arch Street in Philadelphia, where they were told incorrectly they had to pay for a photo ID. Twelve of the 16 didn’t have the money with them and left empty-handed.  

The Department of State is rolling out a new Commonwealth ID next week, which may end up creating more problems than solutions. 

The bottom line is that the Commonwealth isn’t ready to get an ID to everyone who needs it for the November election, and unless we put on the brakes, people will be disenfranchised. They sure ain’t making it easy.