City of Pittsburgh Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak is calling the Pennsylvania Voter ID law an “ill-written and poor piece of legislation” after a public hearing Wednesday revealed numerous problems people are having as they try to comply.
“This is a complicated issue to begin with, but once you start peeling back those layers you start to see what a complete disaster this piece of legislation is,” Rudiak said. “It is an absolute disaster.”
Wednesday’s hearing included panelists from Pittsburgh United, the ACLU, Pennsylvania Retired Americans, the Black Political Empowerment Project and the Epilepsy Foundation, as well as residents. It was held to discuss the background of the law and what voters should do to prepare for it.
Although those groups all are working to help residents get valid identification, Rudiak said the process has been confusing and frustrating.
“We’re working with this law everyday, and we are still finding out new things about it that change our understanding of what’s valid and what’s not,” she said.
Rudiak said she worries people might think they have a valid identification to use at the polls, but it might not actually comply with the Voter ID law.
As the law stands now, voters must produce photo identification with an expiration date in order to vote. Veterans IDs are not valid forms of voter identification; neither are Medicare cards.
To get a valid photo identification card from PennDOT, residents must first produce a Social Security card and an official birth certificate with a raised seal—or a certificate of U.S. citizenship, or a valid U.S. passport—as well as two proofs of residency, such as a current utility bill or tax records. Cell phone bills are not valid.
Rudiak said a representative from Pennsylvania Retired Americans shared stories of elderly people who have handwritten birth certificates, or don’t have a birth certificate at all.
Valid identification cards can only be obtained from PennDOT drivers license centers, but wait times at the centers often are in excess of two hours.
Rudiak has heard of mothers who missed hearing their numbers called because they were changing a diaper, and were told to come back another day. Others have told her they had to arrange transportation two or three times, because they don’t drive and wait times at the centers were so long they were turned away when the center closed.
She said PennDOT employees are not to blame, because they are not trained to issue identification cards specifically for voting purposes—a unique process that requires unique documentation.
“I don’t know how we can logistically make this happen in this state. There are nine counties in Pennsylvania that don’t even have PennDOT licensing centers,” Rudiak said. “There are 71 centers in the state, and 13 of those are only open one day a week.”
Absentee ballots can’t be used as an alternative. Rudiak said it is illegal to fill out an absentee ballot application if you have the ability to physically go out and vote. Those with a disability or illness are exceptions, but she said people in those situations are required to provide their doctor’s information on the application as proof.
She said it also puts pressure on those working at polling locations. Those people have to confirm on a form that they checked every identification. If it’s proven that they didn’t, the offense is punishable by a $2,000 fine or jail time.
All this, for what she said ultimately amounts to a non-issue.
“The state has never investigated, prosecuted or confirmed a case of voter fraud in Pennsylvania,” Rudiak said. “We’re spending money on a problem that doesn’t exist.”
She said there is a disconnect between what the law was intended to do, and the way it is being carried out, and she thinks it will do more harm than good.
“There are voters out there who might think that voter ID is a great idea, and then they’ll get to the polls and won’t be able to vote,” Rudiak said. “This is a presidential election year. This is an election to elect the most important person in our country. We need to take some time to think about this.”