PA voter ID efforts prove inadequate; appeal to the State Supreme Court will be argued this week
If you have to get a photo ID in order to vote this November 8—only two months away— you’re not going to get much help from the PennDOT motor vehicle centers, one of the principal locations to obtain a photo ID.
In Pike and Wayne counties, as well as in all PA counties, these centers are only opened two days a week and are crowded by other people seeking new licenses or getting driver tests.
“I went to the license center in Milford to get a voter photo ID for my son so he can vote and it was so crowded that we decided to leave and come here to the Honesdale center,” said Paul Wolfert of Hemlock Farms in Lord’s Valley, standing outside the Honesdale license center. “In Milford, it took a half hour to do two people. I see that it’s not much different here.”
According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, there are about 750,000 people in the state who don’t have an acceptable form of photo ID and may not be able to vote in the election in November. Groups suing the state over the new law, which went to court a few weeks ago, say the actual number is more than one million.
With two months to go, a survey of practices at PennDOT license centers indicates there are barriers that may make it difficult to Pennsylvanians to obtain a photo ID, according to a report by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC). The department entitles the report “Pennsylvania’s Identity Crisis.”
The PBPC study said, “In this first documented survey of the agency’s [PennDOT] efforts to implement the state’s new ID law, a dozen volunteers working with PBPC reported that PennDOT centers lacked basic signage and information about the law, and provided little information about the availability of free IDs. Observers received incomplete and inaccurate information and in almost three out of 10 cases individuals were told they must pay for IDs that should have been made available free.”
In June and July, PBPC volunteers conducted 42 visits to 43 driver’s licensing center to observe how the state’s voter ID law was being implemented. The visits covered 28 counties with centers serving 73% of the population, it said. There are 71 licensing centers statewide.
“The Commonwealth has a lot of work to do to ensure that voters will not be disenfranchised,” the study said. The report recommends that Pennsylvania delay implementation of the law until clear, consistent and accurate implementation can be guaranteed.
On August 15, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson, a Republican, rejected a request by the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union (PA-ACLU) for an injunction to stop the implementation of the law.
An appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by the PA-ACLU, a group called the Advancement Project and the Washington, DC law firm of Arnold & Porter is scheduled to be argued on September 13. The fate of the voter ID law will be decided by six justices on the State Supreme Court, three of whom are Democrats and three are Republicans; the seventh justice is suspended from office while facing conspiracy charges. If the opinions of the six justices are evenly divided, the lower court ruling will stand.
Attempts to reach PennDOT who controls the motor vehicles centers’ schedules were not successful.