In wake of voter ID lawsuits, how hard is it to get ID?

Gov. Tom Corbett.
RIKARD LARMA/METRO

The Pennsylvania chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP
posted nearly identical statements on their respective websites
announcing that they are looking for plaintiffs in preparation for a legal challenge of the state voter ID law’s constitutionality.

Gov. Tom Corbett signed the law last month, making Pennsylvania the
16th state to require photo identification in order to cast a ballot. Critics say this will
disproportionately affect the elderly, disabled, minorities and the poor — many who have
traditionally voted Democrat — in a year when a Democratic president is seeking reelection.

State Reps. Dwight Evans (D-Phila) and John Myers (D-Phila) will announce today the introduction of House Bill 2313, which seeks to repeal the law. In a release, Evans cited the potential cost of the recently announced court battle along with the law’s pointlessness as reasons to toss it out.

What’s the big deal about getting a government-issued photo ID, anyway?

Well, let’s walk through the process. First, you have to physically show up at a PennDOT office – there are five locations offering the service in Philadelphia and about 70 statewide, though some are closed several days of the week and, when open, have hours from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Can’t miss work? Don’t have transportation? Doesn’t matter.

There, after most likely waiting for – we’ll be generous and say an hour (or three) – you must present your social security card plus either a birth certificate, a certificate of U.S. citizenship or a passport.

You say you don’t have any of those documents? Hey, it happens, especially if you’re a youth or a senior or a member of a whole host of other demographics. But that’s where it gets hairy.

We’ll start with the birth certificate. You’ll have to get that through the Division of Vital Records, which charges $10 for each application.

You can’t get the certificate online through third party vendor VitalChek (which only accepts credit or debit cards, charges an additional $10 processing fee and heavily pushes the “more secure” UPS Air shipping method at an additional $18 charge) because the site requires that you scan and upload your valid government-issued photo ID, which you don’t have.

So the Department first suggests that a relative who does have an ID apply for a birth certificate on your behalf via snail mail or at one of the six Division of Vital Records offices. No aunts, uncles, or cousins, either – those eligible are limited to parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren, spouses and siblings.

Don’t have a competent family member? You’ll have to fill out and deliver a “Statement from Requestors Not Possessing an Acceptable Government Issued Photo-ID” form with two forms of identification from the following list: a pay stub, utility bill, bank statement, income tax return, car registration or lease or rental agreement.

And if you work under the table or not at all, live in a boarding house or don’t have a home, well, you’re kind of screwed.

If you were lucky enough to get through step one (yes, that was only step ONE), now you need a social security card. That requires proof of citizenship and / or age, which you just got in the form of your birth certificate.

It also requires proof of identity. Which brings us back to the government ID issue which, remember, you still don’t have.

The Social Security Administration, in a pinch, sometimes accepts military and employee IDs, school IDs and records, health insurance cards and medical records. You can take a gamble and mail the birth certificate and other original documents to Philadelphia’s Social Security Card Center in the hopes that they will eventually be sent back, along with your card.

Or you can go on down to the one office that serves Philadelphia to ensure your documents a) will be accepted and b) won’t travel out of your sight. The office’s hours are 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. You can expect to wait. Then wait again for your card to come in the mail (no, they don’t issue them on the spot) in about seven to 10 days.

Only then can you apply for your government-issued ID and exercise your rights to the fullest extent in Pennsylvania.

Obtaining a state-issued ID requires documentation, time, money, transportation and a fair amount of
knowledge of or ability to navigate the government system. At the least, it’s simply another barrier to voting, a practice that’s already in decline.


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