Release: Voters Getting Little Information About Alternative Voter ID at PennDOT Centers

HARRISBURG, PA (September 26, 2012) – Pennsylvanians seeking voter ID are receiving very little information at driver’s licensing centers about a new alternative identification issued by the Department of State (DOS), according to a new report from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

At the same time, some voters are receiving information at the licensing centers stating they will need substantial documentation and must pay a fee to obtain a traditional non-driver’s photo ID.

“The Voter ID Law has been a moving target with frequent changes in procedures and now a brand new type of ID,” said Sharon Ward, Director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. “With very little information about this alternative voter ID available at licensing centers, voters could easily become confused or conclude they lack the documentation needed for an ID.”

The Voter ID Law was enacted in March and is scheduled to take effect with the November election. The law states that any Pennsylvanians who needs an ID for voting should receive one free of charge. In late August, the state introduced the DOS ID as an alternative option for any voter who lacks the required documentation to get a non-driver’s ID issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).

In September, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center partnered with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to conduct 44 visits to PennDOT licensing centers (including 36 where interviews were conducted with PennDOT staff) to assess how the new DOS ID is being implemented. The visits covered centers serving 76 percent of Pennsylvania’s population.

Observers found that written information about the DOS ID was scarce at most centers. In one in four interviews conducted by observers, PennDOT staff indicated they would discourage individuals from obtaining a DOS ID, even if that was what the customer was seeking. In some cases, staff actively disparaged the DOS ID – one staffer calling it “worthless.”

There also remains inconsistency in the availability of free voter IDs at PennDOT centers. PennDOT staff consistently told observers that the DOS ID was free of charge, but in 44 percent of cases, staff said there was a charge for a PennDOT ID, based on the view that such IDs could be used for more than voting.

In August, PennDOT had updated the main form for obtaining a non-driver’s photo ID to indicate that there is no charge for a voter ID, but the updated forms were not consistently available at the driver’s license centers. Observers received copies of the form in 71 percent of the completed interviews, but two-thirds of the forms were not current and indicated a cost of $13.50 for ID.

One PennDOT employee told an observer: “We got training for what that was worth, but it’s all confusing because they keep changing things.”

The report also finds that there continues to be inconsistency in signage and information provided on the Voter ID Law at PennDOT centers. There was some improvement since surveys that were conducted in June and July and were the subject of an earlier PBPC report.

Nearly nine in 10 PennDOT centers displayed the DOS Voter ID flyer, which lists the types of ID required to vote but does not specifically mention the DOS ID. That is up from 13 percent of sites that had some form of signage in the earlier surveys. Just over nine in 10 sites had some information about the voter ID requirement available for customers to take in the waiting area – up from 53 percent. 

However, specific information about the new DOS ID was almost non-existent at the PennDOT centers. There was a DOS Q&A on the Voter ID Law in 64 percent of visits and a Voter ID handout available in 75 percent of visits, but neither mentions the new DOS ID. 

Two documents that specifically discuss the new DOS ID – a DOS flyer on the new ID and a Q&A document – were not provided to any of our observers. In one in five cases, volunteers who specifically asked about the DOS ID were provided a copy of a July 20 press release about it.

In nine out of 10 interviews with PennDOT staff, observers were told about the availability of a PennDOT ID, but they were only told about the DOS ID in a little more than two-thirds of the time (68 percent).

PennDOT staff also provided inconsistent information about the documents needed to obtain a voter ID. In close to three-quarters of the cases, observers were told they could obtain a voter ID even if they lacked some documentation needed for a PennDOT ID. In 28 percent of the cases, staff gave unclear answers or insisted that individuals must have one or more of the documents that are not required for a DOS ID.

“The commonwealth is still falling short when it comes to ensuring that voters have access to free ID,” Ward said. “Until procedures can be further improved and every voter has an ID, the risk remains high that some Pennsylvanians will be disenfranchised by this law.”

As such, the report recommends the commonwealth delay the law beyond the November election to provide more time to ensure photo ID is available to all who need it to cast a ballot.

View the Full Report