Sunday, April 15, 2012

New ID law may disenfranchise some older voters

In March Pennsylvania enacted one of the toughest Voter Identification (ID) laws in the country. Act 18 (HB 934) will be in effect for the November Presidential election. This new law may have a disproportionate impact on seniors. 

Pennsylvania's new voter ID requirements
Under the new law a voter must produce an acceptable form of ID to vote. The ID must be current, show the voter’s name, photograph, have an expiration date, and be issued by an approved authority. Acceptable photo IDs include:
•    A PA driver's license: valid for no more than 12 months beyond the expiration date.
•    An ID issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) which is no more than 12 months beyond the expiration date.
•    A U.S. passport with a definite expiration date. Passports beyond the expiration date will not be accepted.  
•    An active duty or retired U.S. military ID, including the PA National Guard: an indefinite expiration date will be accepted.
•    A military dependent’s ID that has a definite expiration date. IDs beyond the expiration date will not be accepted.  
•    An employee ID issued by federal, PA, PA county or PA municipal government that has a definite expiration date. IDs beyond the expiration date will not be accepted.
•    An ID issued by a PA university, college, seminary, community college or two-year college to students, faculty, employees and alumni that has a definite expiration date. IDs beyond the expiration date will not be accepted. 
•    An ID issued by a PA care facility (such as a long-term care nursing facility, assisted living residence or a personal care home) that has a definite expiration date. IDs beyond the expiration date will not be accepted.

There are a number of exceptions, including:
·       Nonphoto driver’s license or ID cards issued by PennDOT for voters who have a religious objection to being photographed.
·       A PennDOT ID that has expired within the last year.
·       U.S. armed forces IDs that show an indefinite expiration date.
·       Absentee-ballot voters, who may provide their driver’s license number or, if they do not have a license, the last four digits of their Social Security number.

Impact on Seniors Feared
There is serious concern that Pennsylvania’s new ID law will result in the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of legal voters, including many older citizens. A National study showed that 18% of seniors do not have a currently valid photo ID. That translates to over 300,000 Pennsylvania seniors. Many of these elderly will have problems gathering the required documentation to get a photo ID and arranging for transportation to a photo center. (If you ever tried to get your birth certificate, you know that it can be a complicated process that can take months.)
The law does provide that photo IDs for people who live in elder-care institutions in the state will be accepted as long as they show a name, photo and expiration date that makes them current. And in his signing ceremony remarks Governor Corbett pledged that state agencies will add extra hours to transport people, particularly the elderly, to get identification cards from PennDOT’s service centers.

But it does appear likely that some of the 18% of seniors who are currently without photo IDs will be discouraged from voting due to the complexity of this new law, misunderstanding its requirements, and the sheer difficulty of complying. 

Requirements to Obtain a Photo ID
To obtain a Pennsylvania Voter Photo Identification card, an individual needs to visit a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Driver License Center with a completed Application for an Initial Photo Identification Card; form DL-54A, and the following:
·       Social Security Card
AND one of the following:
·       Certificate of U.S. Citizenship
·       Certificate of Naturalization
·       Valid U.S. Passport
·       Birth Certificate with a raised seal
·       Two proofs of residency such as lease agreements, current utility bills, mortgage documents, W-2 form, tax records

If the name on your original document differs from your current name, you must provide documentation that connects the names, such as an original Marriage Certificate, Divorce Decree, or Court Order document. Importantly, a photo ID may be issued to a prospective voter who does not possess any of certain forms of identification based on completion of an Oath/Affirmation Voter ID form

Provisional Ballots at the Polls
At the polls, people without proper ID will be permitted to cast a provisional ballot but must submit proof of identification to the county election board within six days.  

Legal Challenges to the Law
Opponents suggest that the law has a primarily political purpose although its supporters deny this motivation. It is curious that complex additional voter ID requirements were enacted by a Republican legislature and administration that generally express opposition to new burdensome government regulation.  

Act 18 will be challenged in lawsuits to be filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and others who argue that it is unconstitutional because it discriminates against the elderly, poor, disabled, and urban voters. Similar laws are being challenged across the country. In March, The US Justice Department blocked Texas from enforcing its new identification law. However, just a few years ago in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 553 U.S. 181 (2008), the US Supreme Court found a somewhat similar Indiana law to be constitutional.

In addition to being valid under the federal Constitution, the photo ID law must comply with the Pennsylvania state Constitution. In March, a state court in Wisconsin ruled that requiring a photo ID to vote was unconstitutional under that state’s Constitutional protection of voters. Like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania’s Constitution also guarantees to the right to vote. Article I, Section 5 provides: Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.

The courts will eventually tell us whether the new voter ID law is legal. In the meantime, seniors who want to vote this November should prepare now to comply with the law’s strict requirements.

For Further Information:

PennDOT Driver and Vehicle Services: Obtaining a Photo Identification Card

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