Voter ID Rules Keep Changing as Judge Hints at Injunction of Law
A few weeks ago, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center and the Service Employees International Union sent 40 volunteers to 44 (of 71) Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) centers across the state in order to assess how simple or difficult it is to obtain a voter ID.
This test-run analysis comes after months of incrementally liberalized access to IDs. Ironically, the constant changes toward making the process easier is also what’s making the process confusing and ineffective.
The Voter ID law, enacted in March, states that any Pennsylvanian who needs an ID for voting should receive one free of charge. In late August, the state introduced the voter-only picture ID as an alternative option for any voter who lacks the required documentation to get a non-driver’s ID issued by PennDOT.
The report concluded that would-be voters, for the most part, aren’t able to find the information they need, especially about the new voter ID option.
Voter-only IDs were introduced to make the process easier, but less than two months away from the election, this report indicates that information on how to obtain one is “almost nonexistent” at PennDOT centers.
Not one single volunteer received either of the two documents that specifically discuss the new ID (a flier on the new ID and a Q&A document) during their visit to the PennDOT centers.
When asked direct questions about the type of IDs available, 46 percent of PennDot staff provided bad information. Some falsely claimed, for example, that obtaining the voter-only ID required a birth certificate or Social Security card, or costs money. In some cases, PennDOT employees steered the volunteers away from that ID altogether. One staffer even told a volunteer that it was “worthless.”
“It appears … that there’s confusion,” explained Sharon Ward, executive director of the Budget and Policy Center on a conference call with reporters this afternoon. “The facts about how to obtain this ID are not well-known [and] PennDoT staff [is] having difficulty managing this process. One [PennDot staffer] said it was hard to follow because they keep changing the rules.”
Meanwhile, the rules changed again just yesterday.
The report concluded that “the introduction of a new type of voter ID so close to the election would likely compound the problems already encountered in the implementation of the new law.”
It seems that Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr., the judge who is overseeing the case, agrees with that assessment.
“I’m giving you a heads-up,” he told lawyers yesterday, as they argued over whether or not the new requirement would leave citizens wanting to vote in November out of the poll booths. “I think it’s a possibility there could be an injunction here.”