2012-07-26 / Local & State

League Of Women Voters Spreading Voter ID Info

By Bernard Harris

LANCASTER INTELLIGENCER

JOURNAL/LANCASTER NEW ERA

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) – This time of year is always busy for the League of Women Voters.

There are voter registration drives, scheduling candidate forums and preparing the annual voters guides.

But this year, with just more than three months to go before a presidential election, league volunteers are facing a much greater challenge: some 20,000 voters in Lancaster County do not have the identification needed to cast ballots in the Nov. 6 election, and many of them do not know it.

For the first time, registered Pennsylvania voters will be required to show state-approved photo identification at the polls.

Susan Leinberger, president of the local league chapter for the past seven years, said many people are unaware of the state's new voter identification law. Even people who have heard of the law often are unaware of its requirements, whether the photo identification they have qualifies under the law and what is needed to obtain state-approved identification.

The nonpartisan league is working to raise awareness.

In conjunction with the Spanish American Civic Association, the league will be distributing voter identification information at three events in coming months. Those events are aimed at minority voters who are expected to be disproportionately affected by the law.

Puerto Ricans, who make up the majority of the county's Latino community, face another hurdle. One proof of identification used to obtain a state-approved photo ID is a birth certificate. Puerto Rico invalidated all birth certificates issued before July 2010 after it was discovered fake documents were being used to gain U.S. citizenship.

Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, its residents do not need a passport to travel to Pennsylvania or other states. A passport is another accepted proof of identity.

Other accepted forms of proof are U.S. citizenship certificates or naturalization certificates.

“I think people see this as a barrier for illegal aliens to vote,” Leinberger said of the new law. “An illegal can never vote, but people who are legally in this country are having barriers put up so it is more and more difficult for them to vote,” she said.

Pennsylvania's Department of State said Friday it will offer a special photo ID card for voters who are unable to obtain birth certificates or other documents for a non-driver ID issued by the Department of Transportation, the Associated Press reported. Secretary of State Carole Aichele said the new card is designed to provide “a safety net” for voters who are unable to get the documents they need for a PennDOT ID. It will be available through PennDOT starting the last week of August.

Leinberger, 62, a city resident, said she also has offered to speak at senior centers and retirement homes about the new law.

“The senior population is just as heavily hit with this voter identification law as some of the other populations,” she said.

While many younger and middle-age voters possess a Pennsylvania drivers license – expected to be the most common form of accepted voter ID – many older people stopped driving years ago.

“The point that concerns me the most, if people don't have any history prior to 2008, if they are not in (state Department of Transportation) records, they will have to start from scratch,” she said.

For people born outside Pennsylvania, that may mean contacting officials in that state to obtain a birth certificate with a raised seal. In some cases, that process can take eight weeks.

“If people don't start now, they will not be able to vote in the election,” she said.

And, Leinberger noted, there is always a fee attached to obtaining a copy of a birth certificate.

“Saying this is not a problem, to say is can be done without expense is simply not true,” she said.

Under the law, voters seeking a state photo identification card may obtain one without paying the $13.50 PennDOT fee. But to have the fee waived, a voter must sign a waiver stating that they have no acceptable form of photo identification.

And, she said, “unless you know to ask for a waiver, they're not going to tell you.”

As part of a statewide survey of PennDOT license centers, a league volunteer went to the PennDOT center on Rohrerstown Road and found no signs about the new law, long lines and a staff unfamiliar with provisions of the law, Leinberger said.

The license center is the only one in the county where the photo ID can be issued, she said.

The statewide League of Women Voters is also a party, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, in a lawsuit attempting to overturn the law. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday. A court injunction could delay implementation of voter ID until after the election.

But Leinberger, who retired seven years ago as superintendent of the Eastern York School District, is not pinning her hopes on a judge's ruling.

She is working on having information on the new law translated into Spanish. Once printed, she hopes to have Spanish and English information distributed in public libraries and other locations that will accept the information.

“I can't drive people to an ID center, but we can give people information and an estimate of what it will take for them to vote,” she said.

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