The state of Pennsylvania's ability to get every would-be voter a government-issued photo ID by Election Day will literally be on trial Tuesday.
The hearing before Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson comes after the state Supreme Court last week instructed him to block a new law requiring ID at the polls unless he determines "that there will be no voter disenfranchisement" arising from its implementation.
Opponents of the law have said the state can't possibly prove that case, as the law's entire reason for existence is precisely to make it harder for the poor, members of minority groups, students, and the elderly to cast their ballots, and in that way suppress the Democratic vote.
Republican backers of the law have said it was intended to fight voter fraud. But in-person voter fraud -- the only kind voter ID would reduce -- is almost nonexistent.
But now the question is one of implementation, and whether the state is fulfilling its promise to educate voters about what they'll need at the polls this year and get them the IDs they need if they don't have them. Signs are that it isn't.
The main provider of photo IDs is the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation -- PennDOT. PennDOT has only issued a fraction of the IDs estimated to be necessary.
It also turns out the state is actually blocking attempts by various Democratic officials who have come up with ways to get IDs to those who need them more effectively.
State Sen. Wayne Fontana, a Democrat who represents the Pittsburgh area, recently took to his local Patch.com website to complain that top Pennsylvania officials denied his request to create neighborhood centers by using state offices -- including legislators' district offices -- to distribute photo ID.
"This clearly demonstrates to me that the administration fails to recognize the importance in making the process of obtaining a voter ID easier and more convenient for those who lack the necessary photo identification," Fontana wrote. "For many voters who do not possess a driver’s license, getting themselves to a Driver’s License Center is a serious challenge."
With the state balking, Pittsburgh's Allegheny County government is stepping in, taking advantage of one of the law's few loopholes: that it recognizes photo IDs from state-affiliated colleges and senior care facilities, as well as drivers' licenses.
While the intent of the law was that such IDs be used solely by students and senior center residents, the community college and hospital centers in the county are instead issuing IDs to any state resident who wants one.
The state government also isn't making it easier for local officials to track down the registered voters who lack ID.
The state initially calculated potential "non-matches" by comparing voter rolls and PennDOT IDs, and found a staggering 750,000 people who were registered, yet had no PennDOT record. But that list turned out to be deeply flawed. Among other things, it failed to match people with spaces, hyphens or multiple capital letters in their names.
A more accurate list would allow local officials and groups to better target their efforts -- but the Secretary of State's office denied the request by Philadelphia's top elections official, Stephanie Singer, to provide such a list.
"It's a way to make the efforts of the people on the ground more effective," Singer said. "And they are not doing it."
The state has taken some positive steps. For voters born in Pennsylvania, for instance, PennDOT officials will now verify the existence of their birth certificates electronically, while they wait, rather than sending them away to get a hard copy.
And Matthew Keeler, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, said officials are working hard "to make sure that everyone's aware of the law with enough time that if they need an ID, to get an ID."
An education campaign that already includes TV commercials, print ads and mailers will grow to include robocalls in October, Keeler said. "We're going to keep going. We're going to keep reaching out every way we can."
The state's top election official -- a Republican -- recently said she expects the state's "aggressive public relations campaign" to actually increase turnout.
But the confidence among state officials is not well founded, Singer said.
"Because everyone they know knows about the law, they think everybody knows about the law," Singer said.
"Anyone who says the state is doing a great job, I would say: What have you measured that would lead you to believe that? What evidence you have? It's one thing to have an impression based on the people you know and the people you talk to. But do have any evidence of that?"
Meanwhile, the League of Women Voters of Philadelphia has launched a major effort to help senior citizens get the ID they need. Its president, Rachel Lawton, said the law has created a very effective barrier to voting.
"Someone has to really care about voting, rather than just go around the corner to the polling place where they've been going for years," Lawton said.
Seniors who don't have ID "really have to jump through some hoops" to get it, Lawton said. And the state doesn’t seem to be doing very much to make it easier. "In general, they haven't extended hours or added more employees," she said.
Ashindi Maxton, a Service Employees International Union official, oversaw a recent survey of 75 voters trying to obtain IDs across the state. "People who vote and don't have ID are pretty much always characterized one of four ways," Maxton discovered: They are ill; they are people with disabilities; they are elderly; and/or they are poor.
"For a significant number of people, there was a tremendous barrier they had to go through," Maxton said of their experiences with PennDOT.
A report based on the survey described elderly and disabled voters having to return to the PennDOT multiple times after long waits -- four hours or more -- and then being told to come back; sick, elderly and disabled voters foregoing food or medications because of lack of timely or available restroom facilities; elderly, disabled and poor voters being misdirected to different locations or lines for "voter ID" by PennDOT officials; and lower-income voters being asked to pay a fee for voter ID when the law stipulates that the ID should be provided at no charge.
"The process is anything but easily accessible," said Nancy Spencer, a United Steelworkers official coordinating the Pennsylvania vote. "The implementation is basically a mess. There's no way that the state can honestly say that no voter is being disenfranchised."
Also on HuffPost:
You're an average voter in Pennsylvania. The night before Election Day, your wallet goes missing, leaving you without immediate access to any of the identification you'll need to vote at your local precinct the following morning. This would be a problem under <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx#PA" target="_hplink">Pennsylvania's proposed photo ID law</a>, since <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/02/pennsylvania-voter-id-ruling_n_1919187.html" target="_hplink">blocked by a state judge</a>. While many people in this situation may have backup forms of identification, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/05/pennsylvania-voter-id-law_n_1652469.html" target="_hplink">studies have shown</a> that a significant percentage of would-be voters don't. The state's safeguard against the immediate disenfranchisement of people in this situation would be a provisional ballot cast on the day of the election. But this doesn't mean your vote counts, yet. Anyone who casts a provisional ballot is required to "appear in person at the county board of elections" within six days of the vote to provide proof that their ballot was valid. If you're able to take time away from your job to do this, the process still requires a would-be voter to either show up with valid ID -- a replacement driver's license <a href="http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/fees/index.shtml" target="_hplink">would cost $36</a> and considerable time -- or to <a href="http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/pdotforms/voterid/VoterAffirmationNoProofofID.pdf" target="_hplink">sign an affirmation</a> that you are indigent and not able to afford the fees associated with acquiring a photo ID. Even if you make a rapid and somewhat expensive turnaround to get a replacement ID -- or alternatively swear under oath that you are too poor to pay for such a document -- there is no guarantee that your vote will end up counting. Many elections are largely decided before provisional voters have a chance to verify their validity, which could serve to discouraging them from following up with election officials or leave them effectively disenfranchised. In 2008, <a href="http://www.eac.gov/assets/1/Documents/2008 Election Administration and Voting Survey EAVS Report.pdf" target="_hplink">only 61.8 percent</a> of all provisional ballots cast were fully counted. If strict photo ID measures were implemented, however, the number of provisional ballots submitted would likely increase, as would the requirements for voters hoping to make them count. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
Eleven percent of eligible voters say they lack current government-issued photo IDs, a <a href="http://www.brennancenter.org/page/-/d/download_file_39242.pdf" target="_hplink">survey</a> on the potential impact of voter ID laws found. You live in Georgia and you're one of them. Like 66,515 other Georgians, according to a <a href="http://brennan.3cdn.net/773c569439b50452e0_kzm6bo5l6.pdf" target="_hplink">recent study</a> from the Brennan Center for Justice, you also lack vehicle access and live more than 10 miles from an office that issues state ID. As a registered voter who's skipped the past few elections, you decide you'll vote this year. But you spend your life working multiple jobs to provide for your family, not tuned in to a news cycle that may have told you about a voter ID law that changed the requirements. If you were aware of the measure, you'd know that you have to get yourself to a state office during business hours to procure a photo ID in order to vote. According to the Brennan Center, these facilities are often only open part time, especially in areas with the highest concentration of people of color and in poverty. While the state does offer a free photo ID initiative, the Brennan Center points out that many of the offices provide confusing or inaccurate information about what Georgians need to do to get one. This may be a tough task as you juggle a strenuous work schedule with other commitments -- and that's assuming you're aware of the requirement. But you're not, so you head to your voting precinct on election day with no access to an acceptable form of identification and vote with a provisional ballot. To <a href="http://sos.georgia.gov/gaphotoid/3679BasicVotingInfo_printer final.pdf" target="_hplink">verify that ballot</a>, you'll have two days to present appropriate photo ID at your county registrar's office, which at this point wouldn't be doable. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
As an elderly Tennessee resident, you've made a decades-long Election Day habit of traveling to your local polling place and exercising your franchise. It's an important day for you, and it gives you the rare opportunity to leave your house, where you live alone. For a number of years, you've had an identification card that allows you to vote. But thanks to the state's strict new voter ID law, that document will no longer be sufficient. Reports <a href="http://www.wbir.com/news/article/185824/2/Tennessee-voter-ID-law-awaits-effect-on-seniors" target="_hplink">found</a> that 230,000 Tennesseans older than 60 possess driver's licenses that don't have photos on them. Such ID will not be accepted at polling places in November. While the state has agreed to issue photo IDs free to anyone who asks, a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/tennessee-voter-id-law-program_n_1669323.html" target="_hplink">recent study</a> found that only a tiny percentage of potential targets have applied. Perhaps that's because people like you weren't aware of exactly how the change was going to affect them. Maybe you weren't even aware of the change. Poll workers tell you that you can cast a provisional ballot on Election Day. You'll <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx#tn" target="_hplink">have until</a> "the close of business on the second business day after the election" to find an applicable piece of identification -- which you don't have -- and present it to a designated elections official. Whether it's your lack of an acceptable form of identification, the difficulty in finding transportation back to the elections official, or the prospect of having to go through the drain of the entire process again, you're discouraged, and give up. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
You're a resident of Kansas in your early 60s, fully expecting to vote in November. Your driver's license is your primary form of ID, but you rarely carry it anymore. You don't drive and you haven't traveled abroad in years, leaving your passport expired or lost. In the months before the election, you changed addresses, and for some reason never received a notification from the state reminding you that your license had expired. On the day of the election, you head to your polling place, unaware that you're about to be told your license is expired and therefore invalid according to the state's new voter ID law (Kansans over the age of 65 can use expired IDs, but you're not there yet). You're given a provisional ballot and informed that <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx#Kansas" target="_hplink">you must</a> now "provide a valid form of identification to the county election officer in person or provide a copy by mail or electronic means before the meeting of the county board of canvassers." While Kansas says it has <a href="http://www.wycokck.org/Internet2010ElectionBanner.aspx?menu_id=1092&banner=27765&id=26946" target="_hplink">historically counted</a> around 70 percent of its provisional ballots, this year provides a different landscape. The next steps can be somewhat difficult, and with the enacting of the state's photo ID law, the use of such ballots will undoubtedly become more commonplace. Faced with disenfranchisement, you must now race against the clock to have your vote included. With no other acceptable forms of ID available, you go about the process of renewing your license. <a href="http://www.ksrevenue.org/renewingdl.html" target="_hplink">According to the state</a>, this requires you to make your way to a state office, where you'll have to provide a number of identifying documents and pay the fee. By the time you can find someone to chauffeur you through this process -- public transportation is complex and unreliable where you live, <a href="http://www.kansas.com/2012/07/24/2418365/voter-id-law-burdens-wichita.html" target="_hplink">even if you're in an urban center</a> -- most of the major election results have been announced on the news. You decide the undertaking isn't worth the time. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
You're a first-time voter in Indiana who <a href="https://forms.in.gov/Download.aspx?id=9341" target="_hplink">registered to vote</a> at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles using your Social Security number, a process that also <a href="http://www.in.gov/bmv/2339.htm" target="_hplink">required you</a> to get a state identification card, which you placed in your wallet. As a recent high school graduate who commutes with other workers to your full time job on a farm, you rarely need to present identification, so you didn't even bother to get a new ID card when it went missing from your locker a few weeks before the election. You risk potential firing when you travel to your polling place with other members of your community on voting day, but you're intent on participating in your first election. Without valid photo ID, however, you don't get to pull the lever. Under Indiana's new photo ID law, you're instead required to fill out a provisional ballot. But you're told you'll still need to jump through additional hoops that could prove too demanding. Now tasked with making visits during business hours to both the Indiana BMV to <a href="http://www.dmv.com/in/indiana/drivers-license-replacement" target="_hplink">get a replacement ID</a>, and then to the <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx#in" target="_hplink">county elections board</a> to verify your ballot, you decide keeping your job is more important than voting. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
Pennsylvania, Part II
Viviette Applewhite was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's new voter ID measure. She's a 93-year-old great-great grandmother who has voted regularly for decades. She claimed she didn't have access to any of the documents she'd need to vote. With no driver's license and no birth certificate, needed to get a photo ID, Applewhite said she'd be disenfranchised by the law. And she wasn't the only one. A <a href="http://www.aclupa.org/legal/legaldocket/applewhiteetalvcommonwealt/voteridclients.htm" target="_hplink">number of other plantiffs in the ACLU case</a> against Pennsylvania's photo ID law claimed they had been unsuccessful in attempts to get copies of their birth certificates and other papers due to complexities in the state's record-keeping. Most claimed the measure would take away their vote. The law has since been blocked for this election cycle.
Georgia, Part II
You're a longtime resident of Georgia, but you've just recently returned home from a six-month out-of-town assignment from your job. You get into town on the Monday before Election Day. Most of your possessions are still being shipped from halfway across the country. Old friends invite you to a bar to catch up, but in the process of removing your driver's license from your wallet to present to a bouncer, it cracks in half, leaving it officially invalidated. Without a valid license, you won't be able to cast a ballot the next day. You'd renew it and choke down the $20 or more fee <a href="http://www.dmv.org/ga-georgia/id-cards.php#Replacing-an-ID-Card-" target="_hplink">for the replacement</a>, but the documents you need to present are in the moving truck. An election official informs you that you can fill out a provision ballot on Election Day. To <a href="http://sos.georgia.gov/gaphotoid/3679BasicVotingInfo_printer final.pdf" target="_hplink">verify that ballot</a>, you'll have two days afterward to present appropriate photo ID at your county registrar's office. Either you're telling the moving company to drive twice the speed limit for the next 48 hours straight, or you're accepting your disenfranchisement. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>