Two Pennsylvania counties set risky precedents regarding the voter ID law last week, but Philadelphia decided not to follow suit.
In what’s being called a loophole in the law, the Montgomery and Allegheny county governments plan to allow voter IDs to be produced by organizations other than the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Driver’s License Centers.
Senior care facilities in the two counties and the Community College of Allegheny County will issue IDs to people who aren’t necessarily affiliated with their institutions, according to a Sept. 24 press release from the Committee of Seventy — a nonpartisan watchdog political group.
In the release, entitled “Stick with a Photo ID from PennDOT,” the Committee advised Pennsylvania voters to “get an ID that is most certain to be accepted at the polls,” which they specified as an ID from PennDOT. As of Thursday, the state had issued 12,000 new IDs.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and his administration announced Tuesday that the city would not allow colleges or nursing facilities to issue voter IDs.
Brian Abernathy — chief of staff in the Philadelphia Managing Director’s office — wrote in an email to the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, “With limited resources, the city’s efforts should and will be focused on actions that we know will be successful and guarantee voters the right to vote.”
The Coalition includes over 150 groups helping voters adhere to the new requirement.
Dawn Maglicco Deitch, director of the Office of Government and Community Affairs, did not offer additional information on Penn’s involvement with the loophole. She pointed out that PennCards, which will be valid at the polls, are not just issued to students, but also to faculty, staff and their family members using campus facilities.
Throughout the state, the decisions by these two counties have added a new layer to an already controversial issue. The Pennsylvania Department of State claims that the counties are taking advantage of an unintended loophole in the law, although they did confirm that the policies are legal. There are also security concerns regarding the policy.
“We don’t consider it a loophole in the law, we consider it to be the law,” said Frank Custer, communications director at the Montgomery County Office of Communication. “The law allows several entities to issue the IDs.”
The law is currently under review by Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. of the Commonwealth Court, after the decision was handed back down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The judge told lawyers on Tuesday, “I think it’s a possibility there could be an injunction here.”
A dozen witnesses testified in front of the court yesterday regarding obstacles they faced when trying to get a state-issued ID in order to vote. The decision from Simpson on the law is to be made and announced by next Tuesday at the latest.
Regardless of the law’s outcome in court, municipalities across the state are looking into ways to ensure that their constituents are able to vote come Nov. 6.
“I think this law affects seniors, students and the poor more than any other groups, but our goal is not to aim at any one group, but help any voters in Montgomery County who have had trouble getting a voter ID,” Custer said.
The Nutter administration will focus on a different strategy. They are spreading the word about the new requirements and developing plans to organize transportation directly to polling places.
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