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

Would you stand in 4-hour lines, make multiple 70-mile drives just to vote?

September 10, 2012, 11:38 PM

Sept. 11, 2012 -- 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.'"

But the state argues that after a $5 million ad campaign - funded entirely from federal voter education grants –a toll-free information hotline and ample documents posted online, voters should be informed and aware of the requirements.

"It's a shared responsibility," said Jan McKnight, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, or PennDot. "We are encouraging everybody to use the information available."

But hundreds of eligible Pennsylvania voters do not meet those requirements to apply for a secure state ID card.

Two weeks ago, on August 27, the state launched a new type "safety net" ID card, which will allow voters who have none of the documentation to prove their identity and residence necessary for the state ID get a photo ID in order to vote. So far nearly 500 of these Department of State voter ID cards have been issued.

"It's a maze to get the IDs," said Vic Walczak, the legal director at the ACLU in Pennsylvania. "If you go through all of the trouble of navigating the maze, which may include several trips to PennDOT, and then at the end of the day you're still stuck in the maze, then they let you get this 'safety net' Department of State ID."

That safety-net ID is only valid for voting and requires a Social Security number, proof of residence and an affidavit pledging that the voter cannot obtain or afford any other form of ID. Because Pennsylvania offers free birth certificate verification for state natives, few people born in the state will be able to qualify for the "safety net" ID. So far the state has spent about $100,000 issuing free IDs to low-income voters, according to the Pennsylvania State Department.

"The entire system is designed to appear reasonable, but in practice is going to prevent hundreds of thousands of people from voting," Walczak said.

Voters who have the six types of documents necessary to apply for the state ID card have limited time to apply. For residents of 13 counties, there is only one day per week that the DMV is open to apply for an ID. And in 10 more counties it's only open two days per week.

For Klincewicz and his 87-year-old mother that limited schedule meant two days of trying in order to get her the ID required to vote, after she mistakenly surrendered her state ID because of a Department of Transportation error.

Klincewicz's wife had to make two trips to the DMV where she and her mother-in-law, Jisele, waited upwards of four hours to get the ID. All told, he and his wife spent more than 20 hours making phone calls, writing emails, driving to the DMV and waiting in lines to get his mother's ID reinstated so she could vote in November, Klincewicz said.

"My mom has not been very politically active, but in this particular election she's on Medicaid and she does have enough lucidity to know that voting for a president that would be taking away some of her benefits is harmful," he said. "She did register to vote, which I had not seen her do in years."

Jisele Klincewicz is deaf and hasn't driven in more than 70 years. Without her son's help, Pennsylvania's new voter ID law would prevent her from voting in the 2012 election, he said.

"It appears to me a solution for which there was no problem to begin with," Klincewicz said. "It does not make me a proud Pennsylvanian, that's for sure."

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