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Stories of Long Lines, Hurdles for Obtaining Voter IDs in Pennsylvania

We could see a decision today in a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court case over the state’s voter ID law. The state Supreme Court sent the case back down the Commonwealth court, explicitly asking that court to identify whether eligible voters without proper ID in the state had “liberal access” to a free ID card that would satisfy the requirement. Basically, the Supreme Court wanted to know whether the state could get an ID card to everyone who wanted one, ensuring that no voter would be disenfranchised for the election.

The Advancement Project, one of the groups seeking to get the voter ID law thrown out, sent over what they describe as findings of fact in the case:

PennDOT workers are poorly trained and unprepared. Citizens described going to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) centers only to receive wrong information about the documents required and get turned away. Others were met by officials who knew practically nothing about the state’s new voting-only photo ID, or who made them purchase their so-called “free” ID card.

Officials just don’t have the bandwidth to process enough cards and they haven’t issued anywhere close to enough ID cards. Witnesses reported long lines with two and three-hour wait times; PennDOT has issued only 8,795 photo IDs and just 1,005 of the new voting-only cards. That’s a long way from the hundreds of thousands of registered voters without an acceptable photo ID.

This is perhaps the most shocking statistic. We’re 40 days out from the election, and so far around 10,000 new IDs have been issued by the state. A spokesman for the state increased that number yesterday to nearly 12,000. But the estimates range from between 750,000 eligible voters without IDs and upward. Some of them can obtain IDs from county-run nursing homes and colleges, but I would doubt that applies to everyone. In some corners of the state, the offices distributing IDs are only open once a week. In response to demand, the offices in Philadelphia are staying open three extra hours one day a week, on Thursdays. This is pathetic. The state simply has no chance to get IDs in the hands of everyone who needs them. And as we know, this unquestionably impacts low-income and minority residents disproportionately.

Pennsylvania made some changes to their policy that shrunk the number of times an eligible voter must visit a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) office to obtain an ID, from two to one. So far this has served only to generate an enormous glut of voters waiting in lines for the ID.

“They called D804, and then they stopped,” Elsie Torres said, holding the next ticket in line as employees asked her to be patient while they helped their co-workers catch up.

“I’ve been here for two-and-a-half hours,” said Torres, who ultimately waited more than three hours to receive her ID.

Other patrons who spoke with this reporter at the PennDOT center at 8th and Arch streets said that they had to wait between one and four hours to get an ID that will allow them to vote Nov. 6 under a new state law.

“I need to vote,” Torres, 57, said. “I always vote. I don’t miss.”

The long lines and other hurdles create a legitimate hardship for the individuals seeking an ID, precisely what opponents of the law argue in court. Before the changes, people had to make multiple trips to PennDOT offices, deal with unprepared employees, chase down birth records, and more.

We should know very soon what the judge will decide in the case. He seemed to hint at an injunction of the law on Tuesday. The evidence presented here should be enough to make that happen.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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