The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 10, 2012

Lewisburg League helping elderly, others prepare to vote

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

LEWISBURG — The November elections are less than two months away, and Pennsylvania has a new voter identification law in place. That worries the League of Women Voters of the Lewisburg Area.

“I have a concern that a lot of people aren’t aware of what they need to vote,” said Sue Travis, who’s in charge of the group’s voter ID project. “That’s part of the reason we’re doing this.”

What the league is doing is its “Got Your Photo ID?” campaign, and it has two goals:

n Make sure all voters, especially in Union County, know they need a valid photo ID to vote in November.

n Get to those “populations at risk” — particularly senior citizens — of not having a state driver’s license, the most typical form of ID.

The league has reached out to about 25 organizations in Union County that work with populations that could be disenfranchised, Travis said.

Elderly voters are the league’s biggest concern. The group has contacted nursing homes, assisted living facilities, the county’s Agency on Aging, “all organizations that serve senior citizens or have residents,” she said.

The “Photo ID” campaign includes a brochure with information about the new law, the requirements for IDs, how to tell if you need to get one and how to do it.

The state’s voter ID law passed in March, but since then requirements have changed at least four times to address widespread concern over what is a valid ID and who is likely not to have one.

For example, student IDs are valid, but only if they include expiration dates. The state adjusted the law so that expiration stickers may be added to school IDs; Bucknell University is among those now offering students the expiration stickers.

Travis said the spring primary election was a trial run of sorts for the new law.

“I’ve been a judge of elections, and I was getting confused,” she said. “You can imagine how confusing it is for laypeople finding it difficult to know what they need.”

Last spring, people were asked for ID, but didn’t have to have it to vote. Come November, they must have ID.

“We had number of people who said ‘this is ridiculous, I’ve been voting 30 years at the same place, I know you all, I don’t understand why I need this,” Travis said, adding some refused to show an ID in protest.

“They asked what happens if I don’t show ID in fall? They won’t be able to vote. That didn’t make them happy,” she said.

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State Carol Aichele has defended the law, noting that since 9/11, people have been required show photo ID for what used to be everyday chores, such as checking in for a flight or getting a prescription.

But the “ID as way of life” thinking doesn’t apply to everyone, especially those registered to vote.

“Those with driver’s licenses think, ‘What’s the big deal.’ Well, it’s not a big deal for about 90 percent of the people, who carry a license,” Travis said. “But there is 10 percent who are legitimate registered voters who might not have that ID, who may not be able to vote because of this law.”

There also is general confusion: the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation driver’s license center in Selinsgrove reported that many people are coming in for voter ID, thinking it’s a special card they need, unaware that a driver’s license or nondriver’s license is valid.

Union County also is busy trying to make sure workers at its 26 polling places are versed on checking IDs as well as having a healthy stock of provisional ballots. That is the voting alternative for those with no ID; however, voters must remit a copy of their IDs within six days of the election for the vote to count.

Greg Katherman, Union County’s director of elections and voter registration, said on Friday he received information from the Department of State to give to poll workers.

This includes details about the new law, he said, and the responsibilities of judges of elections in following it. Poll workers and officials will begin training sometime in October.

“Everyone is setting up provisional ballots,” Katherman said, “trying to gauge what kind of activity there may be in that arena.”

The league’s main task, however, is keeping people motivated to vote.

“People may feel hopeless, that this is too complicated and they won’t vote,” Travis said. “We’re hoping to dispel some of the confusion. We hope to help people get it.”