The PA Department of State said on Friday that it would begin issuing photo IDs for voting purposes only beginning in about two weeks. The new initiative was originally announced in late July as a “last resort” option for voters who were unable to obtain crucial documentation such as birth certificates and social security cards.
The cards will be exclusively for voters who were born out of state and lack a raised seal birth certificate and are not in the Penn DoT data base, either as formerly licensed drivers or those having a non-drivers Penn DoT ID. Voters in that category can apply for the cards at Penn DoT drivers license centers beginning August 27, or, in the case of offices not open on Mondays, August 28, department press secretary Ron Ruman told Citizens’ Call. Penn DoT has computerized listings of ID numbers going at least as far back as 1991.
Voters who qualify for the special ID will be required to sign two affidavits, one that affirms that they have been unable to secure the required documents such as a birth certificate and social security card for a regular Penn DoT ID and the other that they lack a valid ID for voting purposes, which allows a waiver of the regular $13.50 fee. The first, specifically for the Department of State voter ID, is not yet available, said Ruman.
One likely scenario, though, is that some voters who request the special “last resort” ID may not have exhausted all or any means of securing their out-of-state birth certificate. When asked about that set of circumstances, Ruman responded, “Look, if they honestly believe they can’t get them, I don’t believe there’s going to be an issue,” suggesting that no proof of effort or attempt to confirm that effort by the state will be involved.
The applicant is not required to show a social security card but must provide a social security number and two proofs of residence such as a utility bill and rent receipt. Once the authorizations are signed and the documentation provided, a photo is taken and inserted on the card and the voter is issued the card. The whole process is completed in one visit to a Penn DoT license center, according to Ruman.
Voters born in PA but never had a Penn DoT driver’s license or ID and lack a birth certificate can secure a Penn DoT ID, assuming they can obtain a social security card. They are consequently ineligible for the ID of “last resort.” Their chore is to go to Penn DoT, sign an affirmation that they have no valid ID for voting and apply for a birth record by filling out a short form, which includes name, date and location of birth and parents’ names. A letter from the Department of Health with the birth record should be received within 10 days or less.
With the letter in hand, the voter would then return to the Penn DoT license center with her social security card and two proofs of residence (it is unclear if it is necessary to bring the documentation twice), and a photo will be taken and inserted on a Penn DoT ID card and then issued to the voter.
A third and probably best-case scenario for those currently lacking a valid ID is that of a voter who had a PA driver’s license or non-driver photo ID at some time since 1990. In that case, no documentation should be required, although a trip to a Penn DoT licensing center will be necessary to obtain an ID. Voters are advised to call Penn DoT ahead of time to confirm their listing in their data base at 800-932-4600.
Ellen Kaplan, vice president and policy director for the Committee of 70, remains skeptical about the “last resort” option. “I don’t know because I haven’t seen the affidavit. If you’re calling it a photo ID of last resort, that to me suggests that people have exhausted all their options in trying to get a photo ID for voting, so what does that mean? How do you check that?”
The last paragraph of the affirmation required for a waiver of the $13.50 says this: “I affirm that I do not have any of the forms of identification listed above and require proof of identification for voting purposes, and I acknowledge that that this affirmation is made subject to the penalties of 18 Pa.C.S. § 4904 (unsworn falsification to authorities), which may include punishment of a fine of at least $1,000, a term of imprisonment of not more than two years, or both.”
At this point, it seems unclear if there are any reliable estimates of the numbers of registered voters without valid IDs. Early on, Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele trumpeted a one percent figure of all registered voters across the state, which opponents of the voter ID law never considered remotely credible. Then in early July the Department of State came out with a statewide figure of 758,000 or about nine percent of total registered voters who didn’t match up with Penn DoT ID numbers. On top of that, the state then sent out another set of data to some county elections officials indicating that an additional 906,000 voters statewide that had Penn DoT licenses and IDs that would be no longer valid because they expired before Nov. 6, 2011. Penn DoT IDs expired within one year of the Nov. 6 election will be accepted at the polls.
In Montgomery County, data based on the state figures, including the mismatches and expired IDs, organized by the PA AFL-CIO indicate that almost 16 percent of the county’s 534,000 voters may not have the required IDs. That includes more than 22 percent of seniors and almost 16 percent of young people. In Cheltenham alone, there are more than 4,000 mismatches based on the street lists of registered voters by ward and precinct, according to Daphne Oliver, a Democratic committee member in Ward Two, District Three.
The Department of State did point out when it released the figures that the mismatches were in all likelihood overstated because the state’s computers picked up the most minor of differences in first names or the absence of initials or a space or hyphen between names indicating a lack of IDs, when, in fact, such voters are likely to have acceptable IDs.
Then again, an expert that testified on behalf of the law’s opponents in a Commonwealth Court case that is expected to be initially decided this week, possibly as soon as tomorrow – and then appealed to the PA Supreme Court – estimated that more than 10 percent of those eligible to vote do not have valid IDs. An academic at the University of Washington, Matt Barreto, said that close to one million people in PA think that they have valid IDs but do not, according to his survey research.