Monday, August 20, 2012

Why Don't They Just STFU and Get Granny Her Voter ID?

The first time I voted, I think I was four years old.

Technically, I didn't vote - but my mother took me with her to the polling station, set up in an elementary school I would later attend. She showed me how she marked her ballot, and there was some kind of handle-thingie that I got to "help" pull.

My mother was born just a few years after the 19th Amendment was passed, and she never missed an election, even when she was dying of breast cancer. She was the daughter, sister, and granddaughter of veterans, and served in the Coast Guard herself during WWII.

Yet if she were alive today, she (or Stepmother 1.0 or 2.0) might be among the estimated 700,000 Pennsylvanians disenfranchised this year, for not having a current photo ID.  Many elderly people, especially poor elderly people, don't "get" the need for maintaining a photo ID, given the cost and inconvenience. Their pensions or Social Security checks are usually direct-deposited into their bank accounts. Many of them are "old school" and don't like to use credit cards or checks, instead going in person to their banks, withdrawing cash (and chatting up the bank tellers while there). Up until this year, there wasn't much they couldn't do without an ID, including voting, and as long as they remembered their Social Security number.

Oddly enough, elderly people who live at home with family are at a voting disadvantage. Those who are in a residential care facility that provides photo ID's for their residents are considered properly identified.

Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Dougtone)
So which states have voter ID?

 via Wikipedia:
The statuses as of March 2012 of the 50 states regarding the required showing of ID at the polling place are as follows:[21]
Strict photo ID (voter must show photo ID at polling place): Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee. In addition, South Carolina and Texas have strict photo ID laws that must receive, but have not received, approval from the federal Justice Department; pending such approval, they require non-photo ID.
Photo ID or alternative (voters at polling place must either show photo ID or meet another state-specific requirement, such as answering personal questions correctly or being vouched for by another voter who has voter ID): Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota.
Non-photo ID (state-specific list of acceptable forms of polling place ID, including a non-photo form): Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Washington.
No ID required at polling place: all other (20) states.

I am not dead set against timely, well-publicized implementation of voter ID systems, provided plenty of information and assistance is given to elderly voters to make the transition.

In Pennylvania's case - less than eight months from signing of new law to Presidential election and enforcement. Really?

I do question what the rush is, since the new voter ID cards are not even available yet. Even though there are fewer alleged instances of in-person voter fraud than people killed by lightning or spotting UFO's, I understand that in-person voter fraud could, potentially, become a problem. Okay, fine, let's fix it. And while we're at it, maybe we should close the much bigger problems with voter fraud re: absentee ballots and rigged voting machines, because those things have been demonstrated to actually occur.


 In the Pennsylvania Department of State News Release of July 20, 2012, it states: 
The new voter photo identification cards are scheduled to be available at PennDOT’s Drivers License Centers beginning the last week of August. The identification cards can be issued to registered voters who may not have all of the documents necessary to obtain a non-driver’s license photo ID from PennDOT, primarily a birth certificate.

The IDs, which are free, will be issued to voters for a 10-year period and can only be used for voting purposes. For Pennsylvania-born voters, PennDOT will still use the process of confirming birth records electronically with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to issue non-driver’s license photo IDs for voting.

When requesting these IDs, voters will need to affirm they do not possess any other approved identification for voting purposes. They will be asked to provide two proofs of residence, such as a utility bill, along with their date of birth and Social Security number, if the customer has an assigned number. PennDOT will validate the voter registration status with the Department of State while the voter is in the PennDOT office. Upon confirmation of this information, the voter will be issued the voter card before leaving the PennDOT facility.
What is unclear is whether PennDOT will accept the oath from current residents who were not born in Pennsylvania. 

So PennDOT (lucky souls! The people who work there have to be hating this, so please, don't take out your frustration on them) will now be issuing three kinds of ID's:
  • Standard Driver's Licenses
  • A "regular" Pennsylvania non-driver Photo ID, acceptable to identify its bearer
  • A special, photo ID for voting purposes only

How would I get my own mother a voter ID, or, preferably, a standard non-driver ID?

To obtain a Pennsylvania Photo Identification card, an individual needs to visit a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Driver License Center with a completed Application for an Initial Photo Identification Card; form DL-54A, and the following:

Social Security Card
One of the following:
  • Certificate of U.S. Citizenship
  • Certificate of Naturalization
  • Valid U.S. Passport
  • *Birth Certificate with a raised seal
  • Two proofs of **residency such as lease agreements, current utility bills, mortgage documents, W-2 form, tax records

What the sites neglect to say is that most women will also need to document any name changes through marriage and divorce.

Let's start with the most time-consuming: Birth Certificate. 

Most older people who have never applied for a passport don't HAVE a copy of their "Birth Certificate with a raised seal."

My mother was born in Wisconsin. We could apply for hers via mail or fax, but we need to send copies of her photo I.D. (See how this gets fun?)  Or, we can send current copies of TWO of the following: Government-issued employee I.D. badge with photo; U.S. passport; Checkbook/bankbook; Major credit card; Health insurance card; Recent dated, signed lease; Utility bill or traffic ticket.

Obviously, we don't have the government ID badge or passport. *sigh*  Mom lives with me, so no utility bills in her name; doesn't drive, so no traffic tickets; Probably isn't carrying any major credit cards, though she may have a card for the Bon Ton... We can scare up copies of her Medicare card and her checkbook/bank statement. Score! I can pay for these fees with my credit card. Cost to expedite one copy birth certificate via regular mail - $46.00 (Extra copies available for $3.00 ea)  Luckily, the same ID will work for getting a copy of her marriage certificate. Cost - another $46.00.  (Is the cost of all this documentation prohibitive for some families? Yes.)

Note: as mentioned, my own mother is deceased; I'm going on hypotheticals. (And fondest wishes. Unlike the voter-ID proponents, who are going off hypotheticals and darkest fears.)  But while Mom  was getting her affairs in order before she died, and got a copy of her birth certificate then, it was discovered to contain some important errors. She then had to file more forms to have it corrected, an expensive and time-consuming process. Certainly there will be others who must deal with a similar situation.  And have it resolved by November 6 of this year? Not likely.

Stepmother 1.0, married twice, was born in Pennsylvania; Stepmother 2.0, married three times, was born in New York.  Stepmother 1.0 lost her house and all personal possessions via flooding in the 1970's. Stepmother 2.0 moved so many times she had lost track of her important documents.

New York City and New York State have different requirements. New York City - can be ordered online or in person. $23.30.  Marriage certificate for New York City - $15+, time frame 4-6 weeks. (and we'll need one for each marriage).

New York STATE requires: Driver license, State issued non-driver photo-ID card, Passport, U.S. Military issued photo-ID, OR: Two (2) of the following showing the applicant's name and address: Utility or telephone bills; Letter from a government agency dated within the last six (6) months. Cost: $52.25. Marriage certificate for New York STATE - $52.25 (each).

Stepmother 1.0 married my father in Pennsylvania; I believe that Stepmother 2.0 married my father in Pennsylvania also, but it could have been New York.  Marriage certificates in Pennsylvania are issued by the courthouses in the county where the marriage occurred; cost unknown. PA birth certificates: can by ordered via mail or online; cost $10. Time frame 10-15 business days.

Other states I checked: North Carolina: $39 for expedited delivery or either birth certificate or marriage certificate; Arizona requires ID or notarized signature; cost $24.  California - $14-18 to marriage and birth certificates; must be notarized.

How About That Social Security Card?

An old Social Security card with the "not...
An old Social Security card with the "not for identification" message (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I can lay my hands on mine, but not everyone can.  The Social Security admin advises people to not carry their cards on their person, since wallets and purses may be lost, or stolen.  And it happens.

Other people keep them in a safe, secure place at home - until said home is destroyed by fire (happened to my sister) or flood (Stepmother 1.0) or some other catastrophe. Or, the person puts it in such a safe spot... that they can't find it again.

Because the cards are made of such flimsy paper (at least, mine is), some people have had theirs laminated to make them last longer. Bad move: the PennDOT application says the card cannot be laminated. Would they actually reject an application if all else was in order but the card was laminated? I hope not, but who knows?

To get a replacement Social Security card, you need to show: a U.S. Driver's license, or a U.S. state-issued non-driver identity card, or U.S. passport (here we go again). Failing that, there is a handful of other documents they may accept. Check their guidelines and call their offices for more information. 10 business days processing time.

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

In my hypothetical situation - I would take off work as required, and drive Mom to the local center, not too far from where I lived in the main part of town. For those in more rural areas, or without a car, transportation might be a problem. It is one thing to take a variety of buses to your destination if you are relatively young and able-bodied; it is a whole 'nother ballgame if you are shepherding an elderly relative who may not be in the best of health.

Unlike California, PennDOT centers you can't make an appointment; you go to them... and wait. Maybe you'll be in and out quickly; maybe you'll be there all day.  Not easy if you are elderly and/or disabled.

Getting a New Photo ID Is Like Getting a Bank Loan

Just like it's easier to borrow money if you have money, it's much easier to get a photo ID if you already have ID. So all the people screeching, "Just get off your fat a$$ and take your Granny to get an ID" have probably not looked closely at all the steps necessary to do so.  No, it's not inexpensive or easy, especially if you are starting from scratch.

Because I spent a large part of my adolescence and still have family and friends there, I will always feel strong emotional ties to York County. It saddens me that people like Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett thought this was a priority, to be rushed though in a matter of months, whereas he took his own sweet time as A.G. pursuing a case against child molester Jerry Sandusky, but... I guess he knows where his bread is buttered.

I know there are many decent, honorable people in Pennsylvania, and in all states where voter ID has passed. I encourage you, if you live in such a state, to reach out to your elderly and/or disabled neighbors. Ask them if they have a current photo ID, and if not, offer them your assistance in getting their papers in order.  Perhaps offer them transportation to a PennDOT or another Center where they can get a photo ID and continue to participate in the democratic process.

Regardless of whether your neighbor declares an intention of voting for Jill Stein or Barack Obama or Mitt Romney or Ron Paul or Mickey Mouse, help her. There's not a huge amount of time, but there is enough to help many people who want to vote become re-enfranchised.

This is an issue of fairness and freedom.

In Genesis chapter 4, Cain has eliminated Abel. (He was the competition, you see.) When the Lord asks where Abel is, Cain feigns innocence, saying, "I don't know; am I my brother's keeper?"

We can say "Getting an ID is her/his problem, not mine," and it's just as disingenuous as Cain's  answer, even if you, personally, did not have a hand in bringing voter ID to pass. We are all our brothers' keepers, and our sisters' keepers. Let's behave with honor and dignity, in this election season and always.

Your thoughts?

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