Act 18, signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett in March, requires all Pennsylvania voters to show an acceptable photo ID at the polls prior to casting a vote. Since its passage, a public and courtroom debate has raged on whether this law is constitutional and whether it is disenfranchising voters. We have even heard comments from state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, suggesting that the voter ID law will help Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney carry Pennsylvania in November.
While the focus remains on the ongoing court case and the politics surrounding the law, there has not been enough attention paid to the administration's implementation of the law.
For voters lacking an acceptable photo ID, they are required to visit a PennDOT driver's license center, complete the necessary forms as spelled out in the law and provide a copy of their birth certificate, Social Security card and two proofs of residency to get an ID. The Department of State has adjusted these requirements over the last several months and can now verify birth records online, eliminating the need to provide a birth certificate. However, one challenge for voters that the administration refuses to alter is the requirement that those in need of a photo ID visit a driver's license center.
What is most lacking from the implementation of this law is convenience. Reports suggest as many as 98,000 voters in Allegheny County may not have a valid photo ID for voting. There are only four driver's license centers in the county that produce photo IDs. Even after compiling the needed documentation, anyone not possessing a driver's license faces the challenge of getting to one of these four locations to obtain a photo ID.
These voters are not "lazy," as Rep. Darryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, has said. They include the elderly, the mentally and physically disabled and anyone without the means to drive. They are Democrats, Republicans and independents.
In an effort to make it more convenient to obtain a photo ID, I asked the governor and secretary of state to authorize neighborhood centers. These centers would include 253 elected state officials' offices around Pennsylvania and would be authorized to produce a photo ID for anyone needing one. Our offices have computers, notaries, copy and fax machines, printers and cameras -- everything that is needed. The administration denied my request.
Subsequently, I requested that our offices at the very least be permitted to serve as intermediaries. Our staffs could assist voters by providing the necessary forms, copying their proofs of residency, taking their photos and sending all the information to PennDOT. PennDOT could then verify the documents, produce the ID cards and mail them directly to voters. This, too, was denied by the administration.
Since the voter ID bill was signed into law in March, I have spent countless hours trying to educate my constituents, regardless of political party, on the new requirements, and I have been trying to work with the administration to make the implementation of the law more effective and convenient to voters. No matter the political affiliation, all citizens have a right to vote.
With only four driver's license centers in Allegheny County that produce photo ID and an estimated 98,000 voters that may be in need of photo ID, there is a genuine need to expand these services.
While I applaud County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's action to allow the Community College of Allegheny County and the Kane Regional Centers to issue photo IDs, it would not be necessary if the Corbett administration would expand voter ID services into neighborhoods. Representatives and senators from Allegheny County alone have 42 offices that could serve citizens in need of photo ID. Providing voters the means to have their paperwork processed in their own neighborhood would greatly reduce the burden that many will have in getting to one of only four PennDOT locations.
If the governor were truly interested in "protecting the integrity of our elections," as he has said, he would do everything in his power to ensure that all citizens have easy access to the IDs they need to vote.
Sen. Wayne D. Fontana, D-Brookline, represents the 42nd Senate District.