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PennDOT’s ‘Unwritten Exceptions’ Allow Lead Voter ID Plaintiff To Get ID

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(Credit: Timothy McLaughlin)

(Credit: Timothy McLaughlin)

Gregg_Cherrie--NEW Cherri Gregg
Cherri Gregg is the community affairs reporter for KYW Newsr...
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By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The lead plaintiff in the voter ID case got a photo ID last week, just one day after Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson refused to block the voter ID law.  PennDOT said they gave Viviette Applewhite, 93, a non-driver photo ID even though she did not have the required Social Security card, because she fell within one of the agency’s unwritten exceptions.  So what are these exceptions?  And who can qualify?

PennDOT ID Procedures & the Applewhite Case

Applewhite said she took her raised-seal birth certificate and other government correspondence with her to PennDOT last Thursday when she got her ID. “I took about 10 or 15 documents with me and that lady sat there and read every one of them,” she said.  Even though she had no social security card, her Medicare information did the trick.

“I was so glad, I didn’t know what to do,” said Applewhite.  She said she’s tried several times to get an ID after her purse was stolen eight years ago, but was unsuccessful.

Typically, in order to get a PennDOT driver’s license or non-driver’s photo ID, Pennsylvania residents must present a Social Security card and a raised-seal birth certificate or one of another list of specified documents. Click here to see the list.

But Janet Dolan, PennDOT director of the Bureau of Driver Licensing said there are some limited exceptions to the rule.

“We look at everything on a case-by-case basis,” said Dolan.  She said the agency has an unwritten policy that allows limited exceptions for those who do not have a Social Security card, especially elderly residents.

“We tell everyone what they are required to bring and then, as they come in and see us, depending on what they bring in lieu of that, we make those decisions.”

She said documents from government agencies, like the Department of Public Welfare or Medicare information, could work if it has the person’s Social Security number on it.

“We are then able to validate all Social Security numbers directly with the Social Security Administration,” she said. “We do that electronically, as customers are standing in front of us.”

Dolan said this is not a new procedure.  But Zack Stalberg, who heads voting watchdog group Committee of Seventy and has educated voters for years, said this process is new to him.

“I don’t think we knew and I don’t think anybody else really knew that,” he said.  “I think this is just a handy way of taking care of Ms. Applewhite.”

Stalberg said these exceptions are not published, so it would be difficult for his group or the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition to properly educate voters about ways around the strict PennDOT rules.

“The state rules have been changing for the past several weeks,” he said.  “It is very difficult to help voters and to get accurate information out there under these circumstances.”

Other PennDOT ID Exceptions

Dolan said PennDOT’s goal is to send customers home with an ID.  “We want everyone to vote. And we only want to see the customer once, with regard to providing good service.”

She said PennDOT has made a number of changes over the past few months to accommodate voters.  For example, she said voters born in Pennsylvania no longer need to obtain a birth certificate for the ID, since PennDOT can verify birth records in a matter of a few days.  And then as of August 27th, PennDOT will make available a new Department of State photo ID for voters who are unable to get the documentation necessary for a secure PennDOT ID.  Dolan said more information on the new, free DOS ID will be available in advance of its launch.

But regardless of what exception applies, Applewhite said she is glad that she finally has an ID.  “I am happy that all of this is over,” she said. “And yes, I’m going to vote!”

Lawyers for the ACLU told KYW Newsradio that they plan to push forward with the appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which was filed the same day Applewhite got her ID.

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