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Experiment: How Long Does it Take to Get Voter ID?

Columnist headed to the only Driver's License Center in Lehigh County that issues IDs for voters.

I spent a recent afternoon in an experiment to see how long it might take to get a voter’s photo ID from the PennDOT Driver's License Center off Airport Road. I’ll tell you the results in a minute.

It’s an important question because according to Pennsylvania’s Department of State, about 31,000 registered voters in the Lehigh Valley are without a current driver’s license or state issued non-driver ID that will enable them to vote in the Nov. 6 presidential election.

Some of those folks have other official photo identification that will be accepted at the polls because they are a government employee, a member of the military, a university student or a nursing home patient or employee. All those IDs, so long as they haven’t expired -- plus passports -- will be accepted at the polls under the state’s new Voter ID law.

But let’s say half of the 31,000 people don’t have other types of acceptable photo ID. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Driver's License Center off Airport Road is the only place in Lehigh County that you can get the state-issued, non-driver photo ID, according to Jan McKnight, a very helpful PennDOT spokeswoman. In Northampton County, the only place is the Driver's License Center at the 25th Street Shopping Center in Palmer Township. The state is planning to launch another way to get an acceptable Voter ID in late August but the details have to be ironed out, McKnight said. 

I arrived at the Driver’s License Center off Airport Road at 1:25 p.m. and found a packed parking lot. An employee told me that if the lot was full at that time of day, there was a chance the center would be closed at 4:15 p.m. before my number could be called.

The waiting room was standing room only with people seeking all kinds of services. I took a number and listened as numbers were called at a glacial pace.

As the afternoon wore on, the undercurrent of impatience among the crowd bubbled up. One man said he had waited for three hours on a previous afternoon and then had been told he had to come back another day because the center was closing. Sheila Garcia of Allentown told me she waited almost three hours to get a non-driver's photo ID a few months ago. “The line was out the door,” she said.

Some parents tried to calm their squirming children in front of signs that prohibited eating, drinking, smoking and cell phone use.  A monitor told one person, “There is no cell phone use in here” and a customer called out, “There’s nothing in here.”

It got me thinking: If we’re going to discriminate against non-drivers to make it harder for them to vote, let’s be fair and make it tougher for everyone. Let’s say you have to be able to prove at the polls that you’ve read five opinion pieces this year from sources you disagree with. That way we’d only allow educated voters who have shown they consider arguments on both sides of issues.

Of course we’d also be able to hold voting for all of the Lehigh Valley on one floor of the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

If that modest proposal sounds too exclusionary for you, you’re in good company. Our courts have deemed voting as so central to our system of government that only under very few circumstances – like you’re convicted of a felony – can it be taken away.

Opponents of Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law sued to have it overturned and Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson of Nazareth is expected to rule on the case soon. 

One key thing to remember is this law only prevents the kind of voter fraud in which someone tries to impersonate another person to cast a vote. Such voter fraud is so prevalent that there are ZERO cases of it recorded in Pennsylvania, according to the people defending the law.

So Pennsylvania is spending millions and is prepared to bar some, maybe lots, of people from casting a ballot but can show no evidence why this is necessary. True conservatives – who believe in a less intrusive, less expensive government – should be huge opponents of such a law.

Yet many don’t see what the big deal is, pointing out that people need ID for lots of things. But they don’t allow for life’s complexities -- the Social Security card that gets stolen, the driver’s license that lapses because grandma can’t drive anymore.

In the workaholic years of my late 20s, I somehow accidentally let my driver’s license expire. For more than two years, no one, including me, noticed. Finally, a friend pointed it out and after some hassle I got it replaced. At the time, my birth certificate and Social Security card were 160 miles away at my parents' home. Was it dumb on my part? Yes. Should it have barred me from being allowed to cast a ballot? I don’t think so.   

During my recent trip to the Driver's License Center, I was lucky. My number was called after about two hours – though I didn’t actually stay to get the ID -- and the whole outing, including the ride to and from the center took about three hours. But remember, people who don’t have a driver’s license are more apt to have to take a bus, which could add considerably to the trip.  

In the run-up to the election as the lines at the Driver's License Centers get longer, how many people are going to give up and decide they just won’t get an ID to vote?

To the Pennsylvanians who passed and support this law, I ask this: How many Americans are you willing to deny the right to vote to prevent fraud that is so rare that Pennsylvania can show no -- zero, zip, nada – cases of people perpetrating it?

slyfox August 17, 2012 at 03:18 PM
The more I read on this issue, the clearer it becomes. If I am to believe (I don't see why I wouldn't) that the percentage of voter fraud in Pa. is ZERO, then why all this hassle? Where is all the voter fraud? Who is the one responsible for this troubling, confusing and interferring with lives situation? Who started this?
slyfox August 17, 2012 at 03:23 PM
No disrepect Rich, but you are comparing apples to fish. What happened long ago does not apply in the same sense. This whole thing is ridiculous.
Michael August 17, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Who started this? A Republican think tank called ALEC, which decided that voter ID laws would be good for the GOP politically. So it wrote up some model legislation and sent it out to Republican state legislators around the country. Lo and behold, GOP dominated legislatures began ramming this legislation through in state after state. PA is just the latest in a series of these voter suppression laws. None of those states has any record of voter fraud. Unfortunately, many members of the public are easily propagandized and have convinced themselves that these are somehow or other "needed" to control this mythical epidemic of voter fraud. The same kind of people 25 years ago were up in arms demanding a constitutional amendment to fight the supposed epidemic of flag burning. Remember that nonsense? Same nonsense now, just a different verse.
Michael August 17, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Yeah, that's what I expected Mary Anne: No response.
Mary Anne Looby August 17, 2012 at 03:36 PM
@Michael, you can contact your local representative. Justin Simmons has stated that he will make sure that everyone who wants to vote will have a valid id. I am sure that Mr. Deely ofc will tell you the same. You can give them your information and if and when they are contacted by people who need assistance you will be called upon.
slyfox August 17, 2012 at 03:41 PM
@Michael, thanks. If all what you say is true, that shows the GOP as being sneaky and underhanded and trying to manipulate the voting process. One more hurdle. If that is so, then why would ANYONE vote for ANYONE in favor of such a stupid obstacle? If the voting process has been rolling along with both parties being elected, why is this being forced down our throats now? Just because they can? Stupid. Again.
Mary Anne Looby August 17, 2012 at 03:44 PM
@Michael, I gave you a response. This is how I volunteered. Why don't you go and volunteer somewhere, or better yet get a job.
Michael August 17, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Are you saying you volunteered with Simmons? If I call his office, your name will already be on a list of volunteers. The guy ought to be spending his own summer driving people to the DMV, since he voted for the idiotic law.
Michael August 17, 2012 at 03:53 PM
"Get a job" How clever of you Mary Anne. Because anybody who has different opinions of this law from you must be a slacker. My own rep voted for the law but doesn't want to "get involved" in cleaning up the mess he helped to create.
Michael August 17, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Yep, just because they control the legislature and the governor's office. Odd thing. They say that the lack of an ID law undermines the integrity of PA elections. Yet they don't seem to think the validity of their OWN election to office is in question. Otherwise, this new voter ID legislation they've just passed would be made illegitimate as well.
Crestor Januvia August 17, 2012 at 04:47 PM
She's the worst. Just more proof that everybody in journalism is a liberal. Usually because they have never had a real job.
Crestor Januvia August 17, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Hey... it's a democracy. 65% of citizens favor this law. So it's a good law. Anything that prevents the lazy from voting is generally a good thing.
Michael August 17, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Somebody died and made you king. Who needs pesky constitutional rights anyway?
Crestor Januvia August 17, 2012 at 07:15 PM
I'm not the King. The majority favor it. If it ends up disenfranchising the lazy, stupid and senile, that is a good thing. Those people either don't know what they are doing, or are voting mainly for handouts from people who work and slave for them. So... what exactly is the issue? Oh... you're a democrat? I'm talking about your base....
Daryl Nerl (Editor) August 17, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Once upon a time, the "voting" majority in this country favored slavery and keeping women out of the voting booth. Civil Rights should not be subject to a vote.
Michael August 17, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Like I said Crestor, you're authoritarian to the core. All citizens have a constitutional right to vote; who the majority, or you, think ought to be allowed to vote is irrelevant. The fact that you think it is relevant speaks volumes about you.
Rosemary B August 17, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Michael, why don't you research what groups Mary Ann and other good people could volunteer at and post it here for us? I know I would volunteer. But I have not seen any big push looking for volunteer drivers.
Rosemary B August 17, 2012 at 09:00 PM
But, if you would notice, that is when the only people allowed to vote were MEN! :)
Rosemary B August 17, 2012 at 09:02 PM
I think this article says way more about the condition of the Allentown DMV! I went with my son to the one on 25th st. They seem to know what they are doing there and are very pleasant. I think we were in and out in under an hour.
Crestor Januvia August 17, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Right... it speaks volumes about me. I'm smart enough to figure out the country is being destroyed by the dimwits who go to the polls to vote themselves more handouts. Since the future of the country, and the future of my grand children is on the line, I really don't care much about "rights". I'm all for anything that keeps the bums from voting, and voting twice. This is a war between the workers and the takers in this country. The takers are the core of the Democratic party. You should not even be able to vote if you don't pay taxes. Why should some bum on welfare get to vote for laws that take my money, and give it to bums. The constitution was framed at a time when the founders could not even IMAGINE we would have 50 million people getting food stamps.... Many of us are sick of the bums running the show. You will see a change. Obama is farther behind in the polls then you think. Remember the Walker recall election. All the polls said Walker was tied. He won huge. People don't tell the truth in polls... in this case they don't want to say they are not going to vote for the minority president. He's going down. The WORKERS are sick of the slackers, and the people who support the slackers, all the while making things worse for the slackers. Bums.
Crestor Januvia August 17, 2012 at 09:12 PM
Four years ago the "voting" majority favored an idiot amateur president.... so see... the majority still gets it wrong.... every time they elect a Democrat.
Michael August 17, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Rosemary, you and I and how many other people would be needed to drive 750,000 voters to the DMV and back? Is it even possible to do in just 2 months? And how many man-hours of wasted time would that entail, just to fix a "problem" the state GOP now admits doesn't exist?
Mary Anne Looby August 17, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Rosemary, you are right. Michael wants to know why he has not heard of anyone volunteering to drive people. It is because the people he so vhemently "defends" have made no effort to get help. I agree with you about the DMV in Allentown. I have never been there when it was not a mad house. What Margie experienced is "a day in the life" at the Allentown DMV, I doubt it was all caused by people trying to get picture ID's. What happened to the place on American Parkway? It was there within the last year.
Michael August 17, 2012 at 09:40 PM
We understand. You don't care about other citizens' voting rights (or as you put it, "rights").
Mary Anne Looby August 17, 2012 at 09:49 PM
Michael, who are the 750,000 people in this area? How do you know they exist? Two months is a short time, but what if they asked for help in April, when we knew about this? Did these 750,000 people vote in the primaries? Did they not show ID, or did they not have it? There is no way of knowing. There were plenty of people on Patch who said they had ID but would not show it. How can you not say they are part of the numbers you are quoting? It is all propaganda fed to people like you who cannot think on their own. They take the party line, right or not. By the way, I am a registered Democrat. The difference between you and me is that I think for myself.
Michael August 17, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Nonsense. The ONLY people I have heard actually trying to help people get IDs are those who are opposed to this law. The Republicans who enacted it have not lifted a finger to get voters to the DMV. And the blowhards who defend the law and denounce fellow Pennsylvanians for daring to be without a photo ID ("in this day and age!!!") don't show any interest in cleaning up the mess they support. When asked why, they generally spew venom about the character of those without IDs. Mary Anne is the first supporter I've ever encountered who claims she really intends to help transport people to the DMV. But she hasn't done it yet...and above she muses that there's something wrong with these people for not having gotten out the the DMV already. So call me skeptical.
Michael August 17, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Ahhh, right, you're informed and perceptive, I'm just a dim bulb. Because we disagree over the validity of this law. That statement tells me more about you than you imagine. Ironic that you base it on the fact that I cite a figure that you personally don't understand. Evidently you don't realize that 750,000 was the official count by PennDot, based on a comparison of registered voters to its own list of people with drivers licenses. You may think you think for yourself, but it helps to have some facts to think with.
tamarya August 17, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Actually yes it would Micheal, that ID can show more than you think, when they scan that card. How do you think they track a person and keep them off a plane if on a "do not fly" status. You go to get into a nightclub or any place where ID's are needed to enter, they swipe that card they can tell if you have a warrant. Same way how police find out if pulled over for a routine stop if you are wanted in another area.
tamarya August 17, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Jonathon, how do drivers with jobs and young children manage to get their driver's license renewed every four yrs. I actually looked on penndot's site today, you can print up the form you need filled out to obtain ID, take it to the center once they approve the stuff they send you over for the picture. As for people not having an ID, I can get a photo ID for my child in another yr when he turns 10, so do not understand why people that don't drive never obtained one.
Wayne Schissler August 21, 2012 at 01:33 AM
"The day after a judge upheld Pennsylvania's new voter identification law, the lead plaintiff in the suit seeking to block the law went to a PennDot office and was issued the photo ID card she needs to vote." More: http://articles.philly.com/2012-08-18/news/33249335_1_penndot-id-new-voter-identification-law-penndot-center

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