Editor’s note: The Philadelphia Tribune will examine the impact of the state’s new voter identification law, how it could affect different segments of Philadelphia’s population, and what they need to do to obtain the required identification. This article takes a look at how the law could impact ex-offenders.
An estimated 30,000 ex-offenders living in Philadelphia, the average number of people released from the county jail each year, could be disenfranchised by the state’s new voter ID law.
“The [state] Department of State talked about how they are targeting different groups to make sure they get their IDs, but they never talked about the hundreds of thousands of people who get discharged from prison each day across this state,” said Wayne Jacobs, director of X-offenders for Community Empowerment. “What is the strategy to make sure that those folks are not denied the opportunity to vote?”
State officials have broken down the problems most residents will face in trying to obtain an ID into three broad categories: people who once had a valid driver’s license that is now expired; Pennsylvania natives who have never had a state identification card; and registered voters, typically not born in Pennsylvania, who are unable to get a copy of their birth certificate.
State Rep. Cherelle Parker, chair of Philadelphia’s House delegation, held an informational meeting on Wednesday with officials from the state Department of State, members of the press and representatives from a number of community organizations in an effort to explain the new law.
Though the requirements are the same for ex-offenders as for other segments of the population, they will likely have to add a few additional steps to obtain a state ID.
“They follow the same procedures as anyone else,” said Ron Ruman, press secretary for the Department of State at the meeting this week.
Ex-offenders are eligible for a free, state identification card to vote, just like everyone else. And, Ruman said, they are very likely to fall into one of the three broad categories outlined by the state.
But, Jacobs pointed out that many lack the documents required by the state.
As an example, he pointed to the fact that the PennDOT requires a Social Security card, as well as one of the following: a valid passport, birth certificate with raised seal, or certificate of citizenship or naturalization. In addition, proof of residence is required in the form of an item such as a tax record document, a W-2 form or a utility bill.
It’s the last requirement that worries Jacobs.
“A person that’s just getting out of jail doesn’t have that,” he said, noting that many move back in with family members or friends.
Ruman said ex-offenders, who may be living with someone else and can’t prove where they live, should bring the person they live with to the PennDOT office with them.
“You bring an individual along that would have proof of residency,” Ruman said.
“So now mom has to take the day off work?” asked Jacobs.
The state has promised that people being released from state prisons will now be released with a valid state ID card that can be used at the polls in November,” said Megan Sweeney, special assistant at the state Department of State.
However, people being released from county jail are not guaranteed an ID. In Philadelphia, that could be as many as 30,000 people every year, said William Hart, executive director of the Mayor’s Office for Reintegration Services for Ex-offenders.
“It’s a significant portion of Philadelphia residents that may be disenfranchised because of a lack of ID,” Hart said.
Parker said her office would meet with local prison officials to see if a solution to the problem could be ironed out.
Ruman also noted that anyone wanting to vote in the upcoming election must be registered before they apply for an ID. The last day that Pennsylvanians can register to vote in the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 9.
A recent report by the state Department of State found that 18 percent of Philadelphians — or 186,830 of the city’s registered voters — do not have a photo ID that meets the state’s requirement to cast a ballot in November. Across the state, that number ballooned to 758,000 registered voters — or 9.2 percent of all registered voters.