Pa. Voter ID Law Leads to DMV Trips from 'Hell'

PHOTO: People wait in line outside of the State of California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in Los Angeles, Feb. 13, 2009.

Two government offices, three hour-long lines, two 78-mile trips, two week-long waiting periods, four forms of identity and two signed affidavits later, Pennsylvanians will be allowed to vote.

Under the state's new voter ID laws,, which require every voter to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls, that is the epic process thousands of native Pennsylvanians have to go through to get the ID required to cast their ballots in November. And they now have just 56 days to complete it before the election.

"It was hell all told," said Jan Klincewicz, who helped his 87-year-old mother, Jisele, through the process. "To have to go through that kind of rigmarole to exercise her right to vote I think is excessive."

Pennsylvania is one of five states that will have a strict photo ID law in effect for the 2012 election. Kansas and Tennessee approved similar laws last year. Georgia and Indiana have required voters to present government-issued photo IDs at the polls since 2005 and 2007, respectively.

Proponents of the law argue that the IDs prevent voter fraud. Opponents claim it presents a burden so large that the ID requirement will effectively disenfranchise thousands of voters. How many thousands of voters is hotly disputed.

In Pennsylvania, where 20 electoral votes are up for grabs on Nov. 6, the State Department estimated about 90,000 eligible voters may not have the required form of ID to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging the law in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week, claims as many as 759,000 voters lack a valid ID for voting.

Since Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed the law in March, the state has issued about 7,200 non-driver ID cards solely for the purpose of voting, according to the state's Department of Transportation, which issues the IDs. But for the tens of thousands of voters who, according to conservative estimates, still lack the ID, the transportation, verification and mobilization barriers that stand between them and that voting requirement are significant.

Many of those ID-less voters are very old or in nursing homes, and have limited mobility and few ways to get to a driver's license issuing center, said Nicole Berner, associate general counsel at the Service Employees International Union. Many others, whether they are homeless, living with their parents or simply not named on a lease or utility account, do not have the required documents to prove their address, she added.

"Most of these people are on the margins of society," Berner said, "but they still clearly have the right to vote."

Eligible voters who don't have an original copy of their birth certificate have to make two trips to the DMV, which for residents in rural northern Pennsylvania may be up to 30 miles away; once there, wait times average 59 minutes.

Voters lacking an Social Security card have to truck over the Social Security office, where wait times vary from 15 minutes to an hour, and apply for a replacement card, which takes two to three days to receive in the mail, before making that first trip to the DMV.

"It's long lines and it's multiple trips," Berner said, adding that many people she has encountered "are just becoming demoralized and saying 'I'm just not going to vote.'"

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