Release: Commonwealth’s Procedures May Create Barriers for Voters Needing Photo ID

Report finds lack of information at driver's license centers, voters not being told about right to free photo ID

HARRISBURG, PA (August 3, 2012) – With three months to go until the General Election, a survey of practices at PennDOT license centers indicates barriers that may make it difficult for Pennsylvanians to obtain photo ID required to vote, according to a new report by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC).

In this first documented survey of the agency’s efforts to implement the state’s new voter ID law, dozens of volunteers working with PBPC reported that PennDOT centers lacked basic signage and information about the law, and provided little information about the availability of free ID. Observers received incomplete and inaccurate information and in almost three out of 10 cases, individuals were told they must pay for ID that should have been made available for free.

“Our observers found little information and a lot of confusion about the voter ID law at PennDOT offices,” said Sharon Ward, PBPC director and author of the report. “With three months to go until Election Day, the Commonwealth has a lot of work to do to ensure that voters will not be disenfranchised.”

In June and July, PBPC volunteers conducted 47 visits to 43 driver’s licensing centers to observe how the state’s voter ID law was being implemented. The visits covered 28 counties, with centers serving 73 percent of Pennsylvania’s population. There are 71 licensing centers statewide.

The volunteers were asked to report whether basic conditions were met: if signage indicating an ID could be obtained was visible and if forms necessary to complete the process were readily available. They were also asked to determine whether staff was familiar with their request for voter ID and directed them appropriately to complete the process, and to report if information that ID could be obtained for free was offered.

The volunteers provided detailed comments that painted a picture of what other voters would experience when attempting to secure an ID. Some encountered long lines, offices that were not open the first time visited, and staff that was not always familiar with the requirements of the law.

The Findings

In only 13 percent of visits was signage in the reception area visible explaining that a voter ID could be obtained. In nearly half of the visits, there was neither a sign nor written information readily available about free IDs.

While the vast majority of PennDOT staff encountered by volunteers was familiar with the request for voter ID, in nearly half the visits (46 percent), volunteers were given incomplete or inaccurate information.

In eight out of 10 visits (81 percent), volunteers were not initially told that a voter ID could be acquired for free, and volunteers in three out of 10 visits were told incorrectly that they would have to pay $13.50 to obtain an ID. Securing a free ID requires two forms to be completed, and in more than half of the visits (53 percent), volunteers found that a second form was not offered unless specifically requested or not readily available.

“Our observers knew what to look for, but many voters will not,” Ward said. “We learned that in many instances, unless voters take affirmative steps to get the right forms, they are likely to pay for an ID that could be obtained for free or, for those without the resources, not obtain an ID at all.”

Limited hours of operation at some PennDOT offices also can create a barrier for voters seeking ID. One in five volunteers had to return another time because the driver’s license center was closed. Most counties have only one PennDOT location to obtain a photo ID. Only seven of 67 Pennsylvania counties have more than one driver’s license center.

A key point of confusion is that the main form required to obtain a photo ID, the DL 54A, has not been updated to reflect the requirements of the new law. A further point of confusion is that PennDOT Photo ID Centers do not issue photo IDs; voters must first go to a Driver’s License Center to complete the necessary paperwork.

The state Department of State is the lead agency in Pennsylvania’s voter ID implementation process, but for most voters, PennDOT offices will be the primary point of contact and are the public face of the state’s voter ID law. The procedures required to implement the law have changed several times since it went into effect, making implementation in a short period of time even more of a challenge. Observations indicate a lack of uniform and consistent practices across the state.

A new process to obtain an ID card at PennDOT centers will be rolled out at the end of August. The report concludes that, given the difficulties observed to date, it is unlikely that the new process can be cleanly and uniformly implemented in the short time left before the election.

“It is a tall order to ask a large organization to flawlessly administer a new, unfamiliar product in a short period of time,” Ward said. “Unless that is the case, Pennsylvanians will lose their right to vote.”

The report recommends that Pennsylvania delay implementation of the law until clear, consistent and accurate implementation can be guaranteed. It also suggests a number of steps that will make it easier for voters to acquire ID.

Read the Full Report and Recommendations.