By Marc Levy and Kathy Matheson
The Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA — As a judge weighs whether Pennsylvania’s tough new law requiring voters to show photo identification should stand just six weeks before the presidential election, stories of people who traveled an unusually long road in their quest to vote continued to emerge Wednesday.
Among them were Pennsylvanians who have no valid photo ID and cannot get a record of their birth to prove their identity, are disabled, or are confronting a bureaucratic maze of identification requirements or ill-informed clerks at driver’s license centers.
The 6-month-old law may be in jeopardy, partly because of the travails of people in getting one, and partly because of the state’s stumbling attempts to comply with it.
Tunizia Brown of Philadelphia submitted a court declaration that she got a state-issued photo ID card last week only after persuading a driver’s license center clerk to double-check that she is registered to vote — on her third trip to the center.
Suzanne Williamson said in a declaration that she needed the assistance of a voting-rights advocate to persuade a clerk to issue a voting-only ID for her autistic sister after another clerk had sent her on an ultimately futile and unnecessary errand to downtown Philadelphia to get a copy of her sister’s birth certificate.
Regina Trice, who is staying with a friend after losing her job, said she was told in a trip to a Philadelphia driver’s license center this month that she could not get a photo ID because she did not have a birth certificate or proof of residence.
On Wednesday, long waits confronted some people visiting the downtown Philadelphia driver’s license center on Arch Street, the state’s busiest. One man, Patrick DiGiacomo, who needed a new photo ID both for work and to vote, said he didn’t have the time to wait for an estimated three hours, and left.
John Coleman decided it was worth the wait and spent four hours in line to get a photo ID. Coleman, 50, said he has spent the past several years without a valid photo ID and got his documents together to get a current one after flyers about the new voting requirements started circulating on his block in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood.
“It’s always important to vote,” Coleman said. “It’s the only way to make change.”
On Tuesday, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson told lawyers that it is possible he’ll issue an injunction, although he gave no indication what it might say, or whether it would prevent the entire law from taking effect for the Nov. 6 election, as the law’s opponents are seeking.
Simpson is under orders from the state Supreme Court to halt the law by Tuesday if he finds the state has not met the law’s promise of providing easy access to a photo ID, or if he believTes it will prevent any registered voters from casting a ballot.
Testimony in front of Simpson resumes today. State officials say they believe the number of people who need an ID to vote is small — the state had issued under 11,000, as of Monday — and they contend that an 11th-hour overhaul in the requirements for someone to get a voting-only photo ID should comply with the Supreme Court’s directions. Getting to a driver’s license center should not be considered an unconstitutional burden, state officials say, and judges have agreed.
But opponents of the law say the Legislature intended that photo ID cards be freely available in March, when the law passed, not with just a few weeks left before the election. In addition, they contend that many people still do not know about the law and say that the state’s performance up until now ensures that some people will be prevented from exercising their right to vote, particularly college students, the poor, minorities, the elderly and disabled.
In the meantime, the state has pressed ahead with implementing the law. It has sent postcards to registered voters, aired TV and radio commercials and posted ads on billboards and mass transit vehicles.