Moving Target: Pennsylvania’s Flawed Implementation of the Voter ID Law

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The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is still falling short in its implementation of a requirement in the state’s strict new Voter ID Law that a photo ID be made available free of charge to voters who need one to cast a ballot.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC) worked with volunteer observers who made 44 visits to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) driver’s license centers in 35 counties in September 2012 to assess the commonwealth’s implementation of a new Department of State (DOS) voter ID. The DOS ID was introduced in late August as an alternative option for voters who lacked the required documentation to obtain a traditional non-driver’s photo ID from PennDOT.

We found that the sites had almost no information about the DOS ID. Basic signage and information about the law are still not available at every PennDOT licensing center, although coverage has improved considerably since July.

While PennDOT centers had virtually no information about the DOS ID, there are multiple documents that reiterate strict documentation requirements for a photo ID, which can only serve to confuse less-informed voters. 

Through interviews, observers found that in some cases that PennDOT staff were steering voters away from the DOS ID and encouraging them to obtain a PennDOT ID instead. 

In almost 50% of cases, observers received inaccurate of incomplete information. In several cases, staff made reference to documentation that is not required for a DOS ID. Not all staff made it clear that a PennDOT ID could be obtained for free if it was being sought for voting purposes. And even though PennDOT updated the main form required to obtain a non-driver’s photo ID to make it clear that there is no charge for a PennDOT ID, observers found that in most cases the forms they received were not current.

We continue to find shortcomings in Pennsylvania’s implementation of the Voter ID Law. It remains unclear whether the commonwealth has the ability to ensure photo ID will be available to all who need it by the November election. As such, the commonwealth should delay the law to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised.

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