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August 23, 2014, 11:20 am

Voter ID law recalls days of civil rights fight

For Joseph C. Certaine, it’s like the state’s new voter ID law has turned the hands of time back to 1964 and he’s leading an effort similar to those that helped turn the tide during the Civil Rights era — to make sure voters across the state have the identification they need to vote.

“It is not unlike those old voter registration drives,” said Certaine, co-convener of the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, a former city managing director, and long-time political activist. “I was heavily involved, in my younger days, in voter registration efforts here in Pennsylvania and in Georgia and Mississippi. We went through all of this 50 years ago, 40 years ago, 30 years ago.”

The state estimates that 1 million people lack the identification needed to vote in the general election.

The coalition, a group of more than 70 organizations from across the state, has taken up the task of making sure that every voter knows that they need identification — and that they have it in time to cast their ballot in the Nov. 6 election.

“For all future elections, if you want to vote … you must present an acceptable photo ID,” said Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, vice president and policy director at the Committee of Seventy, which is also part of the coalition. “If you forget your photo ID, you will have to vote by provisional (paper) ballot. In order for your provisional ballot to count, you have six calendar days after the election to provide your county Board of Elections with a copy of an acceptable photo ID and an affirmation that you are the same person who cast the provisional ballot.”

If you don’t follow up, the vote is not counted.

The coalition is urging voters to get the ID needed to avoid a bureaucratic nightmare.

There are a number of acceptable IDs. They include: a valid driver’s license, a U.S. passport, military identification card, an employee ID card from any municipality in Pennsylvania and a valid student identification.

For those without one of those forms of ID, the state will provide one through PennDOT. In theory, the state will provide the ID for free. But in practice, getting a photo ID can cost nearly $25.

Some people will be required to submit a birth certificate to get the state ID, something that costs $10. It is also something that can take months to get. According to Certaine, the wait, because of a backlog, can take up to 14 weeks. And, before PennDOT will provide a free ID card, the applicant has to “attest” that they cannot afford to purchase one. The word “attest” is key — because it means that the applicant must swear under oath they cannot afford to buy one — a hurdle that could scare potential voters away. If they refuse to attest they will be charged $13.50 for an ID.

In addition, the state has laid out a series of rules that govern the information needed to receive a state ID. It can be complicated.

As an example, Certaine said that young adults, without a valid ID, must be able to prove to the state where they live — by providing their address, and if they are unable to provide documentation that they live there, must bring a parent who is required to attest that the applicant does reside at that address.

Kaplan cites another example of the red tape involved in the law.

If a voter’s name changes, say through a marriage, and it no longer matches the name on the ID, then a voter could be requested to bring paperwork — like a marriage certificate — in order to receive an ID.

“PennDOT recommends bringing documents that ‘connect’ the names,” she said.

The red tape is expected to reduce the number of people who vote. But, Certaine said he’s not going to let anyone give him excuses. He’s heard them all before — at the height of the Civil Rights battle.

“Back then we would have people tell us ‘it’s going to get us in trouble,’ ‘it’s going to make life difficult for my family,’ ‘That their one vote wouldn’t make any difference,’” he recalled. “We had to beat back the nonsense of it not being worth it to get people to understand that regardless of what they do they are going to have be represented.”

He points to the ID law as an example.

“I submit to you, that had more people voted in 2010 we might not have the people right now who enacted this legislation and signed it into law,” he said. “ So, voting is very, very important. It’s critical … it has an impact on your day to day life. Saying it’s too much trouble is no excuse whatsoever.”

The coalition is looking for volunteers to help out at polling places in the April 24 primary, when it hopes to have a representative in about 1,300 polling places across the city. Volunteers will be asked to help educate voters about the new law, and what they need to do to comply.


Contact staff writer Eric Mayes at (215) 893-5742 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .