BROOKLINE, December 6, 2012 – Following is the text of the letter State Sen. Wayne D. Fontana (D-Allegheny) sent today to Gov. Tom Corbett, reiterating his request to make the voter ID process more simple and convenient for citizens seeking the necessary photo identification to vote. Despite the court ruling that delayed implementation, the law remains in effect and would require all voters to show an approved form of photo identification to vote in next year’s primary election:

December 6, 2012

The Honorable Carol Aichele
Secretary of the Commonwealth

Dear Secretary Aichele:

With the 2012 election cycle now behind us, it is time to look forward to the 2013 Pennsylvania primary election now just five months away. In doing so, we must look to ways to adjust and improve the process by which voters are able to acquire the necessary documentation required in obtaining an acceptable photo ID under Act 18 of 2012.

The injunction by Commonwealth Court requiring a stay in the implementation of the Voter ID law for the November general election has given us all time to reflect upon the provisions of the law and consider how to improve the process by which voters lacking an acceptable photo ID under the law can obtain the appropriate credentials. Just this week, Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch told the Harrisburg Patriot-News that it was a learning experience for everyone involved and that the time extension will allow the Departments to iron out any remaining issues. I am hopeful this is truly the case.

As I’ve stated in the past, I believe that what is most lacking from the implementation of this law is convenience. In Allegheny County there are only four Driver’s License Centers that produce photo IDs. Even after compiling the needed documentation, anyone not possessing a driver’s license faces the challenge of getting to one of these four locations to obtain a photo ID. I presume the same logistical issue exists all over the state, particularly in large rural counties. The majority of these individuals include the elderly, the mentally and physically disabled and anyone without the means to drive to one of these locations. These citizens come from all walks of life. They are registered Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Regardless of which side of the fundamental issue of a Voter ID requirement one is on, I am sure we can all agree that providing sufficient access for these people looking to exercise their most fundamental constitutional right should be the priority.

For voters lacking an acceptable photo ID, they are required to visit a PennDOT Driver’s License Center, complete the necessary forms as spelled out in the law, and bring a copy of their birth certificate, social security card and two proofs of residency before being issued a photo ID. I commend the Department of State for adjusting these requirements over the last several months by allowing for online verification of birth records, eliminating the need to provide a birth certificate. However, one major challenge for voters that the Administration has refused to alter is the requirement that those in need of a photo ID visit a Driver’s License Center.

In an effort to bring this service to more voters and make the process of obtaining a photo ID more convenient, I originally contacted you and the Governor last summer asking the Administration to authorize neighborhood centers for purposes of obtaining photo IDs. These centers, which would include 253 state elected officials’ offices around the state, would be authorized to produce a photo ID for anyone needing one. Our offices have computers, notaries, copy and fax machines, printers, and cameras, everything that is needed to fulfill the request for a photo ID. The Administration denied my request.

Subsequently, I requested that our offices should at the very least have the ability to serve as intermediaries. This would allow voters the opportunity to visit any elected official’s district office and our staffs would assist voters by providing the necessary forms, copying their proofs of residency, taking their photo and sending all the information to PennDOT. PennDOT would then have the ability to verify these documents and once verified, make the ID card and mail directly to the voter. This too was denied.

Adding validity to my proposal for neighborhood centers was the Commonwealth Court order in October that temporarily halted the enforcement of the law until after the November election. In his ruling, Judge Simpson cited likely disqualification of eligible voters as the reason. The court did not believe that authorities had done enough to ensure that voters had access to the new documents.

By virtue of the court opinion, I expect the Administration to now realize the obligation to make the law’s implementation more convenient. One sensible approach would be to expand voter ID services into neighborhoods as I have continually advocated. Providing voters the means to have their paperwork processed in their own neighborhood would greatly reduce the burden that many have had in getting to PennDOT locations.

If the basis of the law is to truly protect the integrity of our elections, the Department should explore every avenue within its authority to provide further, more convenient access to ensure all citizens have access to receive the required photo ID. I request the opportunity to work with your staff on developing guidelines for neighborhood centers. Whether through Administrative action or legislation that I plan to introduce in the upcoming legislative session that would amend Act 18 to allow for legislative offices to be designated as neighborhood centers for the purposes of assisting constituents seeking the proper photo ID, we owe it to our citizens to have this discussion.

I implore you to reconsider your position on this proposal and work with me toward the common goal of guaranteeing all Pennsylvanians their right to vote. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Senator Wayne Fontana

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