Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law: Voters’ Stories Illustrate Law’s Undue Burden

WASHINGTON, DC –(ENEWSPF)–September 27, 2012.  Since August 28th, the first day a free Department of State ID for voting was made available, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has coordinated a program to monitor the implementation of the new voter ID law at the place where the rubber is hitting the road – Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) offices. SEIU sent organizers to PennDOT offices across the Pennsylvania and interviewed 75 people who were applying for IDs to vote. As a result of this work, SEIU has established authoritative, firsthand information of how voters are experiencing the law.

Several very clear trends emerged among people who want to vote but do not have ID. Many are longtime Pennsylvania residents and many have been voting for years. Many are elderly, disabled, veterans or of limited means, and faced significant burdens in just getting to PennDOT, much less tracking down the required supporting documentation needed to obtain an ID to vote. The Commonwealth Court should meet some of them as it decides whether the new law presents a legitimate barrier to voting.

Here are a few voters SEIU met:

[Full declarations from each of the voters below, that were submitted to the Commonwealth Court, are available upon request.]

Willie C. Allen, a lifelong Philadelphia resident and registered voter, obtained his birth certificate from the Department of Health in order to apply for a Non-Driver’s License ID card. When he went to PennDOT, a woman told him she could not issue him an ID card because the name on his birth certificate was “Clyde Willis Allen” while the name on his Social Security card was “Willie Clyde Allen.” Because Mr. Allen wanted an ID card, he applied for a second birth certificate, but it was still wrong. Noticing that high school records could be used to prove his identity, Mr. Allen went to Germantown High School, where he had graduated from in 1973. However, the woman he spoke to said they no longer had his school records because he had graduated so long ago. Still determined to get his records, he went to the school board office, where a man told him that getting a corrected birth certificate would cost $35.

After that trip, he thought getting an ID would be impossible. Mr. Allen was finally able to get his ID by going to back to PennDOT with an SEIU advocate and explaining the steps he had taken to try to prove his identity. PennDOT issued him identification with the name on his birth certificate, even though he has always gone by “Willie C. Allen.”

Brenda Andrews, a registered voter, went to PennDOT on September 22, 2012, to renew her Non-Driver’s License ID so that she would be able to vote this fall. Although she checked the box indicating that she had no other form of ID to vote, the PennDOT employee told her she had to pay $13.50 for the ID. She explained that she needed the ID to vote, and that she should not have to pay for the ID, but he said that PennDOT guidelines said she would not have to pay for the ID only if she went back in eight days. Ms. Andrews did not want to have to make another trip to PennDOT, so she paid the $13.50 to renew her ID and left.

Jean Foreman, a registered voter in Pittsburgh was contacted by an outside organization to assist her in obtaining a voter ID. She was told she would need her Social Security card, birth certificate and two bills with her name and address on it. She only had a Comcast bill and did not have a birth certificate because her birth was never registered as she was born in a segregated hospital. After a long wait at PennDOT she was denied a free voter ID due to her lack of birth certificate and was told to go to “420” – when Ms. Foreman asked for clarification, the clerk was not helpful and Ms. Foreman left.

Outside PennDOT Ms. Foreman sought help from two volunteers to help her get an additional proof of residency and looked up and verified her voter registration status. (A birth certificate is not technically required to obtain a Voter ID)

Upon getting additional identification, Ms. Foreman, a diabetic, again waited in the long line to obtain a voter ID, and a volunteer with her had to get her some food and orange juice due to her drop in blood sugar during her wait. When she was finally called, a different clerk simply asked for her birth certificate, however this time a supervisor got involved and was able to verify her ID when the volunteer pointed out Ms. Foreman’s name had been spelled wrong on her Comcast bill. The volunteer had to help Ms. Foreman read the voter ID forms due to Ms. Foreman’s impaired eyesight. Ultimately, Ms. Foreman was able to obtain the voter ID after a significant wait and help and advocacy from volunteers.

Tunizia Brown, a 43 year resident of Philadelphia and registered voter for “as long as she can remember” took three separate trips to PennDOT and a call to the local Board of Elections just to ensure her eligibility to vote in November. Ms. Brown does not have a birth certificate and has never been able to obtain a Pennsylvania ID in the past.

At one office Ms. Brown waited an hour in line only to be told she needed a money order for $13.50, which she did not have, so she left. On the second trip, she had to again wait in a long (2+ hour) line, which was hard for her due to a medical condition. When her number was called, she was again denied because, despite having her Social Security card and senior’s card, she was told she needed 2 bills to prove her address. On her third trip she brought an old voter registration card in addition to the aforementioned materials, but again, after a 2 hour wait she was told she had the right documents, but her voter status was not in the system. She was given a state and local number to call to check her registration status. The woman on the phone had no trouble finding her registration information, which she relayed to the PennDOT employee. At that time she was finally able to obtain her ID after 3 trips and more than 5 hours of waiting in lines.

Brittany Bodie-Palmer, a resident of Philadelphia, submitted a voter registration in May 2012. At the time of the declaration she had not received confirmation by the Pennsylvania Board of Elections of her application status. In September, she went to a PennDOT office and was refused an ID application because they said she was not registered to vote and could not confirm her voter status by phone.

James George Sharp Jr., is a 12 year resident of Philadelphia who spent 10 years in the military. He brought multiple forms of identification including his VA ID, state prison ID, Social Security card, two proofs of residence and his separation from military service to PennDOT. After a long wait, he was told, at 4:30 pm, that because the officials in Harrisburg had gone home for the day, they could not verify his voter registration. He was also told he would be better off trying to obtain his original New Jersey birth certificate so he could get a regular ID even though he only wanted a voter ID.

Mr. Sharp, an employee paid on an hourly basis, used time and money he did not have to go to New Jersey to attempt to obtain his birth certificate. For this trip he incurred costs of $36 between transportation and the cost of the birth certificate and additional costs for lost wages. When he went back to PennDOT he was able to obtain a Pennsylvania ID after a six hour wait.

Martha Sudler, a long time voter and resident of Darby, Pennsylvania made two trips to PennDOT to obtain a voter ID. On the first trip, after walking 1 mile and waiting at PennDOT for nearly 5 hours she was told she would need to wait 2 weeks for the state to verify her birth and then make another trip to PennDOT to get an ID. She was not offered the opportunity to obtain a permanent state ID at that time. Several weeks later she got a letter from Harrisburg stating they could not find her birth certificate but the letter would suffice for her to obtain an ID for voting. She eventually made a return trip and was able to obtain a voter ID.

Milton Goldson is a diabetic resident of Norristown, Pennsylvania who uses a motorized wheelchair and walker to get around. A friend took Mr. Goldson to PennDOT to obtain an ID. He waited 2.5 hours and had to shuttle between 2 buildings with his walker. His friend was initially told he would need $13.50 to obtain his ID, and they went to obtain a money order. In the end he did not have to pay and, due to the confusing process, he doubted he would have gotten an ID had his friend not been there to help him.

Theresa Kukowski is a 62 year old registered voter in Philadelphia who has Multiple Sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair. She has not renewed her driver’s license in multiple years and does not have an ID she can present at the polls. The closest PennDOT is too far for her husband to push her wheelchair to and complicated for her to drive to. She will attempt to obtain a ride but is concerned about the long lines at PennDOT.

Suzanne Williamson and her sister Mattie Lee Williams are 61 and 52 year old registered voters in Pennsylvania. Ms. Williams is autistic, so her sister, Ms. Williamson helped her get a state ID after two trips to PennDOT and two trips to the Department of Vital Records.

At the first trip to PennDOT Ms. Williams’ birth certificate was denied as a form of ID because it came from a hospital and not the state. Ms. Williamson had to jump through many hoops to get her sister’s birth certificate, including several trips via public transit to the office of vital records who requested she produce her own birth certificate to obtain a copy of her sister’s. Eventually, she reached out to the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition and with the help of one of their advocates, Ms. Williamson was able to bring all of the same original (denied) documents to PennDOT and obtain a state ID for her sister.