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Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Hangs In The Balance As Voters Try To Prepare

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PENNSYLVANIA VOTER ID
Jim Cramer, a CNBC host, tweeted that his father might not be able to vote. PennDOT quickly rectified the situation. (AP) | Getty Images

Opponents of Pennsylvania's voter ID law seemed to have gained a powerful new ally on Tuesday: CNBC's Jim Cramer.

The indefatigable stock market advice program host tweeted, "I have a problem. My dad, a vet, won't be allowed to vote in Pa. because he does not drive, he is elderly, and can't prove his citizenship."

But within hours, Cramer had the problem solved and said he never meant for the law to be a "political issue."

"PennDot read my Tweet and came directly to the rescue of Pop and did so in a terrific way so he can vote.. Thank you Penndot!" he wrote on Twitter. Cramer declined The Huffington Post's request for an interview though a representative.

But others without an ID or such stature may find the road to the voting booth more difficult. Community organizations, civil rights groups and individuals around the state have described a situation that may imperil the ability of voters to participate in the Nov. 6 election unless the state's Supreme Court, which begins hearings on the new voter ID law Thursday, strikes it down.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) says that the agency is prepared to issue IDs to people who need them, but that they have not been overwhelmed by demand. Nevertheless, some 759,000 voters may lack proper government-issued ID, according to state figures.

“We have taken people to the DMV and they have stood in line for three, three-and-a-half hours,” said Rev. Richard Freeman, pastor of the Resurrection Baptist Church in Braddock, Pa., just outside Pittsburgh. “We have had people in line when DMV staff came out and said, ‘Sorry we’re closing for the day. Come back tomorrow.'"

Freeman is also the president of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, a coalition of 48 churches. Over the last four months, the group and others have helped transport people to get the ID needed to vote. But many of the people who do not have state-issued ID are those who work hourly wage jobs where it is difficult to “disappear for three hours," he said.

PennDot is issuing non-license state IDs, as usual, at a cost of $13. But after voting rights groups pointed out that this cost and supporting document costs can be prohibitive, the state and PennDot also agreed to issue what are known as "IDs of last resort." These IDs are technically free of charge, but in many cases also require people to first obtain various supporting documents.

“Even with the free option it is almost as if you have got to know to how speak and use a special coded language,” Freeman said. “If you do not request it just the right way, we have seen DMV staff in some offices say 'okay, that will be $13.'”

Individuals who have never been issued a state identification or driver’s license must provide their birth certificate, marriage license or other documents that they may not have on hand. The cost of obtaining a birth certificate in Pennsylvania can vary, but generally costs about $25, Freeman said.

“As a person who is financially secure, it is true that when you start talking those numbers, $25 is not going to make me flinch, but for persons making $7.25 an hour, that’s tantamount to [nearly] four hours of work. Think about that for a moment.”

PennDOT said issuing the new IDs -- more than 7,500 thus far -- has been running smoothly. "It hasn't had a real impact on day-to-day operations," spokeswoman Jan McKnight said, adding that less than one percent of business involves voter IDs, "except in Philadelphia," where the number is two percent.

Doris Clark, a 68-year-old retired factory worker who lives in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, said she found the process of getting an ID difficult. A life of hard work has left her with two hip and two knee replacements -- and a rich sense of humor. The latter came in handy in August when Clark decided to replace her lost photo ID and social security card after hearing about the new voter ID law.

First, Clark went to the Social Security Administration, where she spent $13 to file paperwork for a replacement card. When she went to a PennDOT office several weeks later, workers told her the Social Security card in progress paperwork she had was too old and she would instead need to provide an actual card and birth certificate. But Clark lost her birth certificate, marriage license and most of her other belongings in a 1977 fire. So, she had to pay almost $75 to replace those documents, go back and forth between Social Security, a vital records office, and visit PennDOT twice more. As a widow, she ran into particular difficulty because the last names on her social security card and birth certificate did not match.

“Finally that last time when I was there and there was a line of people out the door and they told me that I wasn’t going to be able to get an ID I just said, loudly, 'Fine, I guess I’m not gonna’ to vote,'” she said. “That’s when some people snapped to attention.” An employee then issued her one of the state’s free IDs for voting.

Pennsylvania’s voter ID law passed in March after the Republicans took over the governor's house and the state legislature. At the time, proponents argued that it would ensure the integrity of the electoral process.

The law requires voters to show a Pennsylvania driver’s license, passport, military ID, government ID, student or licensed care center photo ID with an expiration date.

The ACLU, along with the Advancement Project, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and Arnold & Porter LLP filed suit over the law. In a stipulation agreement, the state admitted that there was no credible evidence of voter fraud and that it wasn't likely before the 2012 elections.

The law could have implications for the 2012 presidential race. Pennsylvania GOP House leader Mike Turzai was quoted in June saying the voter ID law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” But Romney and his allies have stopped advertising in the state, which has voted for a Democrat for president in every election since 1988.

For Clark, a block captain who gets voters to the polls every election year, the law is an affront to anyone who believes in the importance of democracy.

“Listen, I may not have much, but I have a PhD in common sense,” she said. “And I’m determined, so I was going to get my ID. But what about the person who don’t have the time, doesn’t have the money or can’t take the run-around? What about them?”

Related on HuffPost:

7 Ways You Could Be Disenfranchised
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