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Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Challenged

June 13, 2012

On March 14, 2012, Governor Corbett signed a new law requiring all Pennsylvania voters to present photo identification to be able to vote (ACT 18 of 2012). The new law, adopted by and large along party lines (House 104-88, Senate 26-23), will take effect for the November 5, 2012 election.

Under the new Act, every voter must have a valid photo identification card to vote. This requirement applies even if you have been a registered voter in your area for many years. Election workers will require all voters to produce a valid photo ID, before they can vote. If a voter does not have a valid photo ID, they can vote a provisional ballot, but that ballot will only be counted if the voter can provide the County Board of Elections with an “acceptable” ID within six (6) days of the election.

On May 1, 2012, a suit was filed in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania challenging the law (Applewhite v. Commonwealth of PA, 330 MD 2012). The plaintiffs include 10 longtime voters who will be disenfranchised because they do not have a photo ID. Also named as plaintiffs are the League of Women Voters, the NAACP and the Homeless Advocacy Project.

The plaintiff’s assert that the Photo ID Law violates the “free and equal” elections clause of Article I Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution because the photo identification requirement will “deny the franchise itself, or make it so difficult as to amount to a denial.” They also assert that the Photo ID Law violates Article VII Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution because it impermissibly adds an additional qualification necessary to vote: the ability to obtain an acceptable photo ID.

Commonwealth Court Judge Simpson has been assigned to preside over the case. He issued an order for expedited discovery and has scheduled a weeklong trial to begin July 25, 2012. Judge Simpson refused to allow citizens who sought to uphold the law to intervene in the proceeding.

Most agree the decision of the Commonwealth Court will be appealed to the Supreme Court which will have the final say. The trial schedule anticipates that the Supreme Court will issue a decision either upholding or overturning the law prior to the November 5, 2012 presidential election.      

What is a valid Photo ID under the new law? All ID’s must have a: Name, photo, an expiration date that is current, and be issued by a governmental agency, an accredited Pennsylvania institution of higher learning or a nursing home.     
The following ID’s are acceptable:

  • Pennsylvania Driver’s License
  • U.S. Passport
  • U.S. Photo ID issued to active and retired military 
  • U.S. Photo ID issued to military dependants 
  • Photo ID’s issued to employees of the Federal Government, Commonwealth, County Government or Municipal Government
  • Photo ID’s issued by a Pennsylvania care facility such as a nursing home
  • Photo ID’s issued by an accredited Pennsylvania institution of higher learning
  • PennDot Photo ID

If you do not have a current driver’s license, a passport or one of the authorized forms of identification, you can obtain a photo ID from PennDot. However, to obtain a PennDot photo ID you must do the following:

  1. Go to a PennDot Driver’s License Center;
  2. Complete an Application for Initial Photo Identification Card;
  3. You must have the following documents with you: A social security card; and one of the following: 1) A birth certificate; or 2) A Certificate of U.S. Citizenship or a Certificate of Naturalization. You must also have with you two proofs of residency such as a lease agreement, current utility bills, mortgage documents, W-2 forms or other tax documents.
  4. If you have a Pennsylvania driver’s license that expired after 1990, you should be able to obtain a PennDot photo ID without the above items.

If you do not have your social security card, you can obtain a replacement card by contacting the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 or electronically at:

If you need an absentee ballot, you will be required to prove your identify by providing one of the following on your application for an absentee ballot:

  • Your driver’s license number; or
  • The last four digits of your social security number; or
  • A copy of any photo ID that would be acceptable if you voted in person.

The only exception to this new law appears to be for those who are disabled and their polling place is inaccessible. If that is the case, you will be able to vote by alternative ballot and you will not need a photo ID. All other voters in Pennsylvania must have an acceptable photo ID with them on election day or be prepared to vote a provisional ballot and then return to the County Board of Elections within 6 days and present your photo ID.

In order to make sure that all Pennsylvania citizens have a right to vote in November, spread the word regarding these new requirements to your family, friends, fellow workers, and neighbors. If you need more information contact your County Board of Elections or the Pennsylvania Department of State at 877-868-3772 or electronically at

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