A group that tested the ease of obtaining a state photo ID card for voting got mixed results at Luzerne County's two Photo ID centers: A volunteer who tested the Hanover Township center found no major problems, while a test at the Hazle Township center ran into multiple roadblocks.
The Hazle Township center lacked signs guiding people to where they had to go, had one of two stations needed to obtain an ID card closed, and a clerk told the volunteer testing the system that the ID card would cost $13.50, even though it is supposed to be free for voting purposes, said Sharon Ward, executive director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.
The center bills itself as "a nonpartisan, statewide policy research project that provides independent, credible analysis on state tax, budget and related policy matters." It sent volunteers to state photo ID centers with a handful of things to look for, and issued a report Aug. 3 noting difficulties those volunteers met and urging the state to drop or delay implementation of the new voter ID system because of those problems.
"We did not set a high bar," Ward said. "We asked if there was signage, are the forms available, does the person behind the counter know what they are talking about."
The report did not detail findings at specific centers, but Ward said volunteers went to the two Luzerne County facilities.
"The Hanover Township one seemed to be fine," she said. "There was signage in the reception area, the person behind the counter understood everything, and the forms were available."
The Hanover Township office didn't make it clear the voter ID was free, "and that's an important issue, because you've got to make sure the ID is free" to comply with the state constitution, Ward said.
The Hazle Township office – just outside Hazleton's southern boundary – was more problematic, Ward said, though all the problems may have stemmed from one aspect of the process: It takes two steps, at two different stations in the building, and those stations often do not share the same hours of operation. Come at the wrong time, and you can't get the ID and may not get the right information.
"You have to fill out an application at the driver license center," Ward said. "Then you get the photo ID at the photo center. Typically the driver exam center hours tend to be fewer than the photo ID center, because if you are renewing your license online they send you a camera card that lets you go straight to the photo center."
The process also requires two forms, one is the standard state form for a non-driver photo ID, which costs $13.50, and that cost is clearly stated on that form.
"To get the free ID you have to fill out an affidavit form that says ‘I'm 18, registered to vote and don't have another acceptable form of ID,' then you get it for free," Ward said.
So when the volunteer checking the Hazle Township Center found no affidavit, and the driver's license center wasn't open, the opportunity for confusion grew.
"The person who gave (the volunteer) information may not have been the right one to talk to," Ward said, suggesting a person in a driver's license center may have been more knowledgeable about the free ID process, but wasn't available.
"We're not faulting PennDOT workers," Ward stressed, noting that getting through the process easily may simply be a case of showing up at the right time, when both centers are open and the right people are working. "But the Supreme Court has been pretty clear that states have to give IDs to individuals who don't have acceptable forms of identification, or it's a poll tax. And that is really a burden on the state, to see that it's easy for a person to get an ID."