by Eric Mayes
Editor’s note: The Philadelphia Tribune is examining the impact of the state’s new voter identification law, how it will affect different segments of Philadelphia’s population and what’s needed to obtain the required identification. This article examines how it might impact people who aren’t eligible for a PennDOT ID.
(NNPA)—State estimates suggest that about 85,000 people across Pennsylvania will be unable to provide the documentation needed to get a state ID through PennDOT—leaving them with only one other option, an ID dispensed by the state Department of State.
“It is a card that will be given for voting purposes only,” said Ron Ruman, press secretary for the Department of State at a recent voter ID informational meeting.
At the moment, all voters are required to show valid photo identification before they will be allowed to cast their ballot on Nov. 6. The law has been challenged in state court, but this week a judge refused to delay implementation of the law until after the election.
Activists are urging residents to get an ID so they are prepared—whatever happens.
The entire process starts with PennDOT, though in this case the Department of State issues the identification card. Applicants must go to a local PennDOT licensing center and tell officials there that they lack the documents needed for a state voting ID.
“Tell them you would like the Department of State ID for voting,” Ruman said. “They will give you a piece of paper to sign that says ‘I cannot obtain the documents I need to get a PennDOT ID.’”
State officials have broken down the problems most residents will face trying to obtain an ID into three broad categories: people who once had a valid driver’s license but it has expired; Pennsylvania natives who have never had a state identification card; and registered voters, typically not born in Pennsylvania, who are unable to get a copy of their birth certificate.
Every Pennsylvanian is eligible for a free, state identification card to vote. But, many lack the documents required by the state to get that identification—unable to get copies of birth certificates or documents that verify a name change—particularly important for married women—or a Social Security card.
Residents in the final category will be issued the state department identification card. They will be issued the card only if they are already a registered voter.
“Make sure you’re registered,” Ruman said. “PennDOT is going to verify that you’re a registered voter.”
Ruman said state officials designed the state department ID after discovering that many Pennsylvanians lacked birth certificates and other crucial documents.
“As we implemented this, we discovered there were folks who are really having trouble getting documents,” he said.
PennDOT requires a Social Security card, or a valid passport, birth certificate with raised seal, certificate of citizenship or naturalization and two items with the person’s address on it, like a utility bill.
So, individuals who lack those documents must turn to the state Department of State for a photo ID as the provider of last resort. Applicants there are required only to have a Social Security number—not a copy of their Social Security card—and two proofs of residence—like a utility bill. If the applicant lacks a proof of residence on paper, someone else can verify their address, like a family member or landlord, but only if they appear in person at PennDOT.
In addition to making sure they have valid identification, all potential voters need to be registered to vote. Anyone wanting to vote in the upcoming election must be registered before they apply for an ID.
The last day Pennsylvanians can register to vote in the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 9.
A recent Tribune analysis of voting records showed that approximately 39 percent of active African-American voters in Philadelphia—more than 152,000 people—lack the state-required photo identification needed to cast their ballot in November. That figure compares to about 82,000—or about 20 percent—of active, White Philadelphia voters who lack proper identification.
According to Celeste Taylor, NAACP of Pennsylvania local civic engagement coordinator/consultant, there are 99,000 registered voters in Allegheny County that do not have a state issued driver’s license or non-driver photo.
(Mayes is a general assignment reporter for The Philadelphia Tribune.)