Eric is a general assignment reporter for The Philadelphia Tribune
Editor’s note: The Philadelphia Tribune is examining the impact of the state’s new voter identification law, how it will affect different segments of Philadelphia’s population and what's needed to obtain the required identification. This article examines how it might impact people who aren’t eligible for a PennDOT ID.
State estimates suggest that about 85,000 people across Pennsylvania will be unable to provide the documentation needed to get a state ID through PennDOT — leaving them with only one other option, an ID dispensed by the state Department of State.
“It is a card that will be given for voting purposes only,” said Ron Ruman, press secretary for the Department of State at a recent voter ID informational meeting.
At the moment, all voters are required to show valid photo identification before they will be allowed to cast their ballot on Nov. 6. The law has been challenged in state court, but this week a judge refused to delay implementation of the law until after the election.
Activists are urging residents to get an ID so they are prepared — whatever happens.
The entire process starts with PennDOT, though in this case the Department of State issues the identification card. Applicants must go to a local PennDOT licensing center and tell officials there that they lack the documents needed for a state voting ID.
“Tell them you would like the Department of State ID for voting,” Ruman said. “They will give you a piece of paper to sign that says ‘I cannot obtain the documents I need to get a PennDOT ID.’”
State officials have broken down the problems most residents will face trying to obtain an ID into three broad categories: people who once had a valid driver’s license but it has 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.
Every Pennsylvanian is eligible for a free, state identification card to vote. But, many lack the documents required by the state to get that identification — unable to get copies of birth certificates or documents that verify a name change — particularly important for married women — or a Social Security card.
Residents in the final category will be issued the state department identification card. They will be issued the card only if they are already a registered voter.
“Make sure you’re registered,” Ruman said. “PennDOT is going to verify that you’re a registered voter.”
Ruman said state officials designed the state department ID after discovering that many Pennsylvanians lacked birth certificates and other crucial documents.
“As we implemented this, we discovered there were folks who are really having trouble getting documents,” he said.
PennDOT requires a Social Security card, or a valid passport, birth certificate with raised seal, certificate of citizenship or naturalization and two items with the person’s address on it, like a utility bill.
So, individuals who lack those documents must turn to the state Department of State for a photo ID as the provider of last resort. Applicants there are required only to have a Social Security number — not a copy of their Social Security card — and two proofs of residence — like a utility bill. If the applicant lacks a proof of residence on paper, someone else can verify their address, like a family member or landlord, but only if they appear in person at PennDOT.
In addition to making sure they have valid identification, all potential voters need to be registered to vote. Anyone wanting to vote in the upcoming election must be registered before they apply for an ID.
The last day Pennsylvanians can register to vote in the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 9.
A recent Tribune analysis of voting records showed that approximately 39 percent of active African-American voters in Philadelphia — more than 152,000 people — lack the state-required photo identification needed to cast their ballot in November. That figure compares to about 82,000 — or about 20 percent — of active, white Philadelphia voters who lack proper identification.
As the Department of Human Services rolls out its new service model — called Improving Outcomes for Children — DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose is spreading the word about the changes, aimed at streamlining case management and bolstering oversight in situations when children are at risk.
“A private provider is going to be providing real service and DHS is stepping back and taking more of a monitoring, oversight role,” Ambrose said during a Tribune editorial board meeting on Tuesday August 14.
Ambrose wants to be sure that the community is aware of the change in agency’s practices as it embarks on a reform drive that will occupy it for the next four years.
DHS recently awarded contracts to its first two Community Umbrella Agencies: Northeast Treatment Centers (NET) and Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM). The two organizations are the first named as DHS moves to change its operations. They will take over case management under the new system. Ultimately, 10 agencies will be given contracts, down from 240 under the old system.
All case management would be handled by those 10 service providers with DHS oversight, monitoring of cases and support in a unified case plan for each child. Each CUA will operate within a specific geographic area of the city.
Ambrose assured the Tribune that should private providers fail in their duties to the city’s children, they face the possibility of losing DHS contracts.
“We won’t have any problem with terminating the contract,” she said.
Hopes are that the change will benefit the children under DHS supervision in two ways.
The first is a new emphasis on community involvement. By giving CUA’s a stronger role in a specific geographic area, Ambrose hoped that communities would be drawn into the effort to help children. Stronger geographic ties are intended to help provide the resources to keep children at home or with family, as much as possible, in the city and their communities.
“This is intended to build a community around children whose parents are struggling,” she said. “If you can’t work it out with parents, then what are the other family or community resources that can be brought to bear?”
Secondly, Ambrose said the new simpler system should be easier for families to navigate.
Under the old system, children under DHS supervision had two case workers, one from DHS and one from a provider agency.
“It really provided lots of opportunities for kids to get lost in the cracks,” Ambrose said. “When everyone’s responsible, no one is responsible. Really tragic things happen as a result of that.”
Under the new model, DHS will streamline case management into a single-case management system. Children will now have one case manager through the CUA, and DHS will provide oversight — including home visits from DHS staff to make sure CUA case workers are providing the necessary care.
Though the changes could save DHS a chunk of its $629 million annual budget, Ambrose said, the agency had not done a cost analysis and expected the shift to be cost neutral. Staffing levels were expected to remain similar under the new plan, though employees would be in new roles.
The reforms are part of a sweeping program of change implemented after the death of Danieal Kelly. The 14-year-old, who suffered from cerebral palsy, died in August 2006 from starvation. Her parents, her DHS and service provider caseworkers and others connected with her death were arrested and prosecuted.
In that case, social workers from the provider agencies and DHS each shifted the blame back and forth.
Her father, Daniel Kelly Sr. 40, was found guilty of endangering the welfare of a child. Dana Poindexter, the DHS caseworker, was found guilty of child endangerment, recklessly endangering another person, and perjury. Her mother, Andrea Kelly, 42, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in 2009 and is serving a 20-to-40-year prison sentence. Mickal Kamuvaka, head of the service provider agency, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, reckless endangerment, perjury and criminal conspiracy.
Both sides say they are prepared to appeal in divisive case
A ruling on the constitutionality of the state’s new voter ID law is expected this week, though any decision is unlikely to quiet the storm of controversy surrounding the law as both sides have already said they’d appeal.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson is expected to issue his ruling this week — perhaps as early as Tuesday. No ruling had been handed down at Tribune press time Monday.
Attorneys made their closing arguments in the case on August 3.
Simpson has declined to speak publicly about the case, giving no indication about how he might rule.
The suit against the law was brought by a number of organizations — including the Pennsylvania chapter of the NAACP — on behalf of 10 Pennsylvania residents who will be unable to vote under the new law. Five of the plaintiffs — Viviette Applewhite, 93; Wilola Lee, 59; Grover Freeland, 72; Gloria Cuttino, 61; and Dorothy Barksdale, 86 — are from Philadelphia. All are Black. In addition, all of them were born out of state and are unable to obtain the birth records necessary to get the Pennsylvania state identification needed to cast a ballot on Nov. 6.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that voter photo ID law violates the state constitution by depriving them of the right to vote. They have asked the court to issue an injunction blocking enforcement of the law before November’s election.
The court case seems to have stirred more controversy rather than pointing toward resolution.
A recent recap of the case by the Associated Press noted that testimony during the seven-day trial demonstrated the confusion surrounding the law, even by the state officials charged with implementing it.
Before the trial, state Secretary of State Carole Aichele said that more than 758,000 people, or 9 percent of Pennsylvania voters, lacked a driver’s license or state-issued ID necessary to cast a ballot on November 6. However, in testimony during the trial, Matt Barreto, a political scientist from the University of Washington, told Simpson that his analysis reveals that 1.3 million eligible Pennsylvania voters lack such ID.
That prompted Aichele to admit that she didn’t really know how many people would be impacted by the law.
Kurt Myers, deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Transportation Department, said in his testimony that many people who come to PennDOT for a state ID lack the documents they need to get one.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed the law on March 14, requiring voters to present ID from a state-approved list of photo IDs, including a PennDOT-issued driver’s license or non-driver ID or government-issued employee ID. Even many otherwise acceptable photo IDs, such as those issued by Pennsylvania colleges and universities and the Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs, will not be accepted because they lack the required expiration dates.
The law has been controversial since it was first proposed. Critics argue that it is designed specifically to keep voter turnout low. They contend that it will disenfranchise minority, older and younger voters. Recent calculations by the Tribune showed that about 39 percent of Black voters could be disenfranchised by the law, as opposed to about 20 percent of white voters.
Pennsylvania is one of ten states to pass voter ID laws this year, prompting an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Six such laws are being challenged in the courts or by the Justice Department. The Justice Department blocked the Texas and South Carolina laws. Both are challenging the federal government’s actions in court.
Court documents that might link a North Philadelphia state representative to a constituent charged with nearly $1 million in federal mail fraud have been sealed.
State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, 64, who is seeking his 13th term in office, was publicly linked this week to Ethel C. Harvey, 54, a chiropractor in his district, who has been charged in U.S. District Court with mail fraud.
The charges were published Friday in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which quoted court papers filed in federal court. However, according to Patty Hartman, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the papers have since been sealed.
Hartman could not say who ordered the documents sealed or when.
The newspaper account speculated that Thomas had helped Harvey gain access to city accident files, which then allowed her to solicit business for her clinic, the Olney Pain & Rehabilitation Center. Court papers, as quoted in the news story, said that Harvey and an unnamed state representative met with officials from the city records department to discuss access to the records and that meeting was followed up by a request for access to the city records through a letter with the state House of Representatives letterhead.
The letter, according to the account, was addressed to Records Commissioner Joan Decker, asking for special access because, it said, Harvey was “undertaking a very important research project which deals with seat belt injuries on African Americans.”
Court filings did not specifically name Thomas, and his office declined to comment to the Tribune on Friday.
The newspaper account said that from 2008 through 2010, Harvey or her designee viewed more than 40,000 city accident records for free. Typically, the city charges $25 each for the records prompting federal prosecutors to put a $988,000 value to the crime.
The Inquirer linked Harvey to Thomas through campaign records. She donated $300 to Thomas’ re-election campaign in 2008, and $1,500 in 2010.
Approximately 39 percent of active, African-American voters in Philadelphia — more than 152,000 people — lack state-required photo identification needed to cast their ballot on Nov. 6, according to Tribune calculations, based on numbers provided in a report released this week.
That figure compares to about 82,000 — or about 20 percent — active, white voters who lack proper identification.
The data appears to bolster claims that the new law violates the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“It’s about impact. Does this law have a differential racial impact [forbidden in the voting rights act] and this study is a piece of hard evidence that it does,” said City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who is in charge of overseeing Philadelphia’s elections.
Numbers provided to the Tribune showed a grand total of 868,648 active voters in the city. An active voter is defined as a person who has voted within the last four years.
About 393,000 of that total were Black.
The numbers were smaller for other ethnic groups. Among active, Latino voters, a group of about 93,000 people, about 37,000 of them faced the possibility of being denied the right to vote because they lacked ID. The majority of the remaining active voters — roughly 319,000 out of 413,000 — were white.
In total, the study, released Wednesday at a press conference at Bright Hope Baptist Church, found that about 280,000 Philadelphia voters lacked proper identification.
That is approximately one in three Philadelphia voters of all backgrounds.
The report was compiled by Tamara Manik-Perlman, an analyst at Azavea, a geospatial software firm based in the city; and Tom Boyer, a computer programmer and former journalist. The two broke down the numbers provided by the City Commissioners’ Office on a precinct-by-precinct basis.
Estimates of how many Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians could be hurt by the law vary widely, but nearly everyone agrees that minorities, the elderly, the poor and students are going to be kept from the ballot box in the largest numbers.
Projections go as high as 362,000, a figure published recently in the Huffington Post. Nearly all are higher than state authorities projected in numbers released last month. At that time, the state Department of State suggested that 186,830 registered voters — about 18 percent of the population — lacked the necessary paperwork to vote.
Manik-Perlman said she set out to map the voting precincts were voters were most likely to lack a photo ID as required by the state. Her research was based on city voting files and U.S. Census data, and an examination of data in each precinct in the city.
She stressed that her figures were projections, because voters can choose whether or not to report race on their registration forms. Many do not.
“We have a sense for each ward and division,” she said. “But, we don’t actually know for each individual what the pattern is.”
The Tribune compiled those numbers into citywide totals.
On a precinct-by-precinct basis, the highest concentration of precincts where voters lacked identification fell in neighborhoods in University City, West Philadelphia and the precincts on both sides of Broad Street in North Philadelphia, small portions of Germantown, chunks of South Philadelphia west of Broad, and slices of Southwest Philadelphia down to Essington.
“For predominantly African-American neighborhoods, it looked like there was about twice as many ID problems than there were for mostly white neighborhoods,” Boyer said. “It’s a very substantial difference.”
The law, which has been challenged in a suit filed by the NAACP and the ACLU and several other groups, is under review by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, who is expected to rule on it next week. Both sides have said they’d appeal the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court.
J. Whyatt Mondesire, head of the state and city chapters of the NAACP said this week that the law — touted by supporters as a way to stop voter fraud — was actually a “voter suppression” tactic.
“It was based on a lie,” he said. “Gov. [Tom] Corbett is a liar; so are his Republican cronies in the state legislature. There is no voter fraud in Pennsylvania.”