What you need to know about Pennsylvania's new voter ID law
Pennsylvania’s Act 18 has been the focus of intense media attention, locally and on the national level. The new law amended the state’s voting rules to require individuals to bring state-issued photo identification with an expiration date to their polling place in order to cast a vote in the November 6th general election.
We share the concerns that have been expressed by many about the potential negative impact of this law on people of color, senior citizens, low income Pennsylvanians, students, and others – including transgender and gender-variant individuals whose names, gender markers and/or appearance may not be reflected on their current state-issued ID. The potential for confusion or complications at the polls could result in voters being turned away or issued a provisional ballot, one that may or may not ultimately be counted.
That’s why Mazzoni Center was proud to join the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, a group of over 160 organizations that have convened to conduct a non-partisan campaign to educate voters about the voter ID law and to help voters obtain an acceptable photo ID if they lack one. Although a challenge is pending regarding the constitutionality of the new law (Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania), we at Mazzoni Center are committed to ensuring that voters understand its requirements in order to avoid complications at the polls on Election Day.
In order to educate our constituents and members of the legal community about the new law, Mazzoni Center Legal Services has been active on a number of fronts. We've added information to our website that explains the new voter ID requirements, including what forms of ID will be accepted at the polls, how to confirm one's registation status, and how to obtain a new ID if necessary.
Legal Director David Rosenblum, along with ACLU LGBT Rights Project Director James Esseks, and the Senior Law Project’s Larry Felzer, spoke on a national panel at the Lavender Law Conference in Washington, DC last month about the specific issues surrounding LGBT, and particularly transgender individuals, who may have inconsistent identification documents. The panel, convened at the last minute, was so well received that he was asked to reprise it again in the form of via a public teleconference organized through the National LGBT Bar Association, which included ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Legal Director, Vic Walczak. (You can click here to listen to a recording of that conversation).
Because we are particularly concerned about the language of the statute, as well as the presumed discretion afforded poll workers, we have written to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, seeking guidance. Specifically, while the Act does indicate that the name on an individual’s name should “substantially conform” with their name in the voter rolls, there is no definition of what standard should be used to determine if the presented identification belongs to the voter. That, coupled with the fact that the statute is silent on issues such as gender markers, could lead to transgender voters being denied the right to cast a ballot, and instead having to vote provisionally (and then explain any discrepancies with the Board of Elections within six days of the election itself). Accordingly, we drafted a letter to Secretary Aichele, suggesting that the Commonwealth should adopt a “common sense” approach to photographic identification and should ignore any inconsistencies around gender markers. We also provided her with suggested language to include in the policy manual that is distributed to poll workers on Election Day. (At the time of this publication, we are awaiting a response from Secretary Aichele).
Also on the local front, we will be tabling outside the Washington West Project at 12th and Locust Streets at this year’s annual OutFest event on Sunday, October 7th. Mazzoni Center is currently seeking volunteers to assist with registering voters, confirming registration status, and providing information about the new law’s requirements with regard to photo ID. If you’re interested in helping out with this important and timely project, please contact Ron Perri at firstname.lastname@example.org.