State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Critics see a wrinkle in new voter ID card process for PA-born voters

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Aug 30, 2012 3:17 AM

The Department of State’s new voter ID card hasn’t even been available a week yet.  The latest account, from close of business Tuesday, shows that 65 have been issued statewide.  But critics say they’re concerned a devil lurks in the details.

The Committee of Seventy, an advocacy group that has been opposed to the state’s new photo requirement at the polls from the get-go, has raised concerns that getting a DOS voter ID won’t be such a simple undertaking for Pennsylvania-born residents. 

Why?  The answer is somewhat involved.

Remember: the Department of State voter ID, or the DOS ID, as we’ll call it, was created by the state as a “safety net” – an additional ID option for people having difficulty forking over the documents required to get a PennDOT license – like a birth certificate and a Social Security card.  The DOS ID requires none of that.  Registered voters only need their Social Security number and two proofs of residence. 

They also need to sign a paper saying they can’t get the documents they’d need for a PennDOT license.  

And therein lies the difficulty, said Committee of Seventy spokeswoman, Ellen Kaplan.  Many Pennsylvania-born voters won’t be eligible for the DOS ID at all, because they should be able to get at least their birth certificates – and there’s a process to check the records at the Department of Health.  But waiting around for that certification could take two weeks, and would require making a second trip to a PennDOT licensing center.  

“Pennsylvania voters have to go through that process.  They’re not going to get a Department of State ID unless the state says, ‘We can’t certify that you were born here.’”

Ron Ruman, spokesman for the Department of State, said it’s true that if Pennsylvania-born voters come to a PennDOT licensing center looking to try to get a secure PennDOT ID, they may face a lengthier process than those who are only trying to get the DOS ID.  “Some folks who are born in Pennsylvania will need to go twice,” to the licensing center, said Ruman.

But it’s also true that the same group could just sign the paper saying they couldn’t get the documents they need for a PennDOT license.

“We’re taking people on their word that they cannot get it, so we would hope that folks would have made some attempt to do that,” said Ruman.  “We’re not going to check on that, but we would hope that folks would be honest about that.”

Pennsylvania-born voters who sign the paper will avoid the lengthy birth records check and, provided they produce a Social Security number and two proofs of residence, they’ll get their DOS ID. 


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