Last week, a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge upheld the new Voter ID law, which will take effect for this fall’s election on November 6th. Act 18, which was signed into law by Governor Tom Corbett on March 14, requires all voters to show an acceptable form of photo identification prior to voting. While I remain hopeful that the state Supreme Court will overturn this transparently partisan voter ID law, the Administration should be more actively helping citizens obtain these required ID cards.
If the Commonwealth is going to require voters to show photo identification at the polls on Election Day, the process of obtaining a valid photo identification card needs to be simpler and more convenient. For those individuals who do not have a driver’s license, obtaining the necessary supporting documentation and getting to a Driver License Center can be a serious challenge. There are 253 members of the state legislature with offices located throughout the state. Many of these offices have notaries on staff, computers, and the technology necessary to assist voters seeking photo identification. The Governor should authorize these state offices to produce the photo identification, or at the very least, establish more centers in neighborhoods where individuals can go to get photo identification.
Bringing this service into communities would make the process of obtaining a voter identification card more convenient instead of placing undue burdens on those seeking to exercise their constitutional right to vote. While the Commonwealth has made subtle changes to the law—like enacting a system to verify birth records for those born in Pennsylvania who do not possess a birth certificate—the requirement that individuals must go to a Driver License Center remains. In cases where someone does not have a birth certificate, once PennDOT verifies birth records with the Department of Health, that person must return to the Driver License Center a second time to obtain their new photo identification card.
The state’s own estimates suggest as many as 750,000 Pennsylvanians lack the necessary photo identification needed to vote and as many as 100,000 live in Allegheny County. There are only four Driver License Centers in Allegheny County where photos are taken. With less than three months until Election Day, that’s a lot of people needing to secure identification in so few facilities in such a short time. Regardless of whether the Supreme Court overturns the Commonwealth Court ruling, the Governor, Department of State, and PennDOT should be doing everything in their power to make this photo identification process as simple and convenient as possible.
Fontana is a state senator who represents Scott Township and Heidelberg