State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

PennDOT won't send PA-born voters home and back

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Sep 17, 2012 6:03 PM

Thumbnail image for Voter-Registration-Identification-requirement-ID.jpgFor registered voters born in Pennsylvania, getting photo ID cards to cast a ballots in November is about to get a little easier.

Native Pennsylvanians who need to confirm their birth certificates using the state’s records will soon be able to do so with just one visit to a PennDOT licensing center.

“It’s a pretty significant change, because it’s not fun to go to PennDOT once, let alone twice,” said Zack Stalberg, president of the voter advocacy group the Committee of Seventy, which has been urging the state to streamline its photo identification acquirement process since the state’s new voting requirement went into effect.

Right now, Pennsylvania-born voters who want to confirm their birth records must make one trip to request the records check, and then another trip, 10 business days later, to get the ID once their birth certificates are verified.

The faster processing time is expected to take a matter of hours, and certainly within a single visit to a PennDOT center.  Matthew Keeler, a spokesman for the Department of State said the expedited process will be “in full swing” by next week.

“It hasn’t been simple for state bureaucracy to talk to another state bureaucracy, but I think the Department of State pushed this, and found a way,” said Stalberg. “The Health Department agreed. So it’ll have a lot of benefit to voters across the state.”

Here’s the full release from the Committee of Seventy:

PHILADELPHIA – September 14, 2012 – A revised procedure to go into effect by the end of next week will now permit all Pennsylvanians who need a photo ID to vote on November 6 to get one by making one trip to a PennDOT Driver’s License Center.

Currently, Pennsylvania-born voters who brought a Social Security card to PennDOT, but not a birth certificate, were required to make two trips to PennDOT before getting a photo ID.

“The Department of State deserves a lot of credit for coming up with a quicker and easier way to get a photo ID,” said Zack Stalberg, President and CEO of the non-partisan Committee of Seventy, which prompted DOS to make the change. Reports from the 175-member PA Voter ID Coalition confirmed that requiring two trips to PennDOT was standing in the way of many Pennsylvania-born voters who do not already have a photo ID that will be accepted at the polls to get one to vote.

The PA Voter ID Coalition was convened by the Committee of Seventy after the voter ID law was enacted last March to conduct a non-partisan campaign to make all Pennsylvania voters aware of the voter ID law and to motivate voters without an acceptable form of photo ID to obtain one in time to vote on November 6.

Currently, Pennsylvania-born voters who bring a Social Security card, but not an official copy of their birth certificate, to a PennDOT Driver’s License Center, must have their birth records certified by the Department of Health. The birth record certification letter, which usually arrives in ten days, must be brought back to PennDOT, along with the voter’s Social Security card and two proofs of residency, in order to get a PennDOT photo ID.

The new expedited process will allow the same voters (who have a Social Security card) to have their birth records electronically certified while they are waiting at PennDOT. The same-day photo ID process has already been available since August 27 for voters who need a special Department of State ID because they don’t have the required documents to get a photo ID, including:

• Pennsylvania-born voters who come to PennDOT without a Social Security card – even if they do not have a birth certificate.

• Voters born outside Pennsylvania if they don’t have or can’t get a birth certificate or Social Security card – or can’t get them without paying a fee.

The DOS ID can only be used to vote, while the PennDOT photo ID can also be used for non-voting purposes, such as entering a building or cashing a check.

“With less than eight weeks to go before November 6, there is a shrinking window of opportunity to get a photo ID,” observed Stalberg, who added that the two-trip requirement effectively closed that window in mid-October. “A same-day photo ID process allows voters to get a photo ID as late as November 6,” he said, although he underscored that the PA Voter ID Coalition is strongly urging voters not to wait until the final days before the election to get a photo ID.

According to Stalberg, the new photo ID procedure does not interfere with the lawsuit to block implementation of the voter ID law, which is now in the hands of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. “All the arguments have been made. Educating voters can’t afford to wait for the final outcome,” he concluded. “This is a win for voters and a win for everyone, including the Department of State, working very hard to make sure that every voter is prepared to vote on November 6.”

Comprehensive information about the PA Voter ID Coalition, the voter ID law, and resources available to help voters get a photo ID for voting can be found at www.seventy.org/voterID.

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