Many opinions will be published on Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, but there’s nothing like a real-life example to illustrate the state’s ill-preparedness to serve its citizenry under this new mandate. Below is my experience.
On Thursday morning I took 86-year-old “Beatrice” to obtain her voter ID. Although we live in Lansdale, we had to drive to . Last week, Beatrice had been turned away at the Harleysville photo center. In Montgomery County, voter ID cards are issued in Norristown and Huntingdon Valley only.
In preparation for the trip, I had consulted www.VotesPA.com to ensure that Beatrice would have all required documentation. Social Security card? Check. Birth certificate with raised seal? Check. Two proofs of residency such as current utility bills showing name and address? Check.
We arrived at before the 8:30 a.m. opening. Initially it was unclear where to go, because there are two buildings. The left entrance is for people holding camera cards, so we got in line on the right. When the facility opened, Beatrice was called immediately. She took a seat and I stood behind her as an advocate. Although Beatrice was the first customer of the day, the worker behind the desk was already gruff.
The worker handed her a complex-looking small-font application form: PennDOT’s Application for Initial Identification Card. This form does not have “voter ID” as an option. All but one checkbox in Section B list a $13.50 fee; the only option marked as “FREE” is for surrendering driving privileges. I asked what Beatrice should check off since “this is supposed to be free.” The annoyed response was “Why do you think this is going to be free?” I said, “Because this is for voter ID.” The worker rolled her eyes and retrieved a second form: the Affirmation That Voter Does Not Already Possess Proof of Identification for Voting Purposes. Beatrice signed it.
Now it was time for Beatrice to present her bag-full of documents. Social Security card? Check. Next, Beatrice fumbled through the bag and produced her birth certificate — along with her marriage certificate. Beatrice had the forethought to pack this additional document, even though it was not mentioned on the website. The birth certificate alone would not have been sufficient because her birth name is different from her married name.
Finally, two proofs of residency. Beatrice had packed several utility bills, including an invoice with rent and utilities combined. The worker rejected this, because “rent is not on the list.” Beatrice also had Comcast and PECO bills. Her shaky hands pulled papers out of the Comcast envelope. Without even unfolding the papers, the worker rejected the Comcast bill because she claimed it did not show name and address. While the worker inspected the PECO bill, I located the name and address on the Comcast bill. Reluctantly, the worker accepted these documents and gave Beatrice the paperwork for her photo.
In the other building, Beatrice was photographed, but did not receive her permanent card that day. Instead, a card with a red “TEMPORARY” stamp was issued, good for 15 days. The permanent card is to be mailed within that window. We left the photo center at 9:15 am.
This experience illustrates several junctures where a voter can be led astray — for example, being charged $13.50 for a free service and being turned away even with the required documentation.
Voting is a right, and the Pennsylvania legislature is making our citizens jump through convoluted hoops to retain it. Beatrice and the rest of the non-driving voters in the state deserve better than that.
Liz Troy, Lansdale
Secretary of the Lansdale Democratic Committee