State data released last week shows that up to 11.2 percent of Centre County registered voters may not have the photo identification they’ll need to participate in November’s election, but that figure doesn’t tell the whole story, and doesn’t worry local elections officials.
The Department of State released figures showing the number of registered voters who do not have matching Department of Transportation records.
The state will use that information to contact and educate those without identification in the coming months. A law passed in March requires all Pennsylvania voters to show ID at the polls, starting in November. Previously, those voting for the first time had to do so.
According to the new data, 758,939 voters statewide don’t have matching PennDOT records. Twenty-two percent of those are “inactive” voters, most of whom have not voted in five years.
In Centre County, 11,442 voters don’t have matching driver’s license/state ID information, with just more than 9 percent of those inactive.
As of Tuesday, 11.2 percent of the county’s registered voters lacked ID.
Tisha Stefanko, a clerk in the county’s Elections and Voter Registration Office, said two situations make that less of a concern for local officials.
First, it happens regularly that a voter’s name is recorded differently with PennDOT, for example, John Q. Public versus J.Q. Public. Stefanko said the issue popped up regularly during the 2008 election, and that computers don’t catch the discrepancy.
“The human eye can see that, obviously, that’s the same person,” she said.
Ron Ruman, a Department of
State spokesman, said it’s unknown how many people are in a similar situation. While allowing someone to vote is ultimately up to the precinct judge, he didn’t predict it would cause problems.
“We know it happens,” he said. “If the face matches, we would certainly think that a reasonable person would say that’s the same person.”
The second local issue involves the county’s large population of college students, and may address some of the inactive voters here. Students register to vote here, then graduate and move away without canceling that registration.
“Absolutely, we have that here,” Stefanko said. “They’re very good about registering Penn State students, but not about notifying Voter Registration when they leave.”
The state’s figures also don’t account for those with other acceptable forms of photo ID, including military, student and government employee ID.
Without factoring in those issues, the statewide and Centre County numbers both are higher than the difference between votes for John McCain and Barack Obama in the 2008 election.
Greg Stewart, chairman of the county Democratic Committee, has a problem with that, and the law in general, which was approved along party lines.
Stewart said his committee makes sure people know about the law and how to get ID as it makes phone calls and attends events. But he’s concerned about people across the county having access to IDs, which are free if a person has no form of photo ID already.
“How does somebody without a driver’s license get to the only driver’s license center in Centre County?” he said of the Rockview/Pleasant Gap office. “How does someone from Snow Shoe get there? How does someone who works get there?”
The office, at 812 E. College Ave., Pleasant Gap, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It is located on the Centre Area Transportation Authority X route.
Ruman said his office is working with PennDOT and other agencies to make the process easier, which may include extended hours or other assistance for groups, or on a case-by-case basis.
“Our goal all along has been, and remains, to do everything we can to make sure everyone’s aware of this law and that anyone without ID can get one,” he said. “If you’ve ever had a license and it’s expired, you really don’t need documentation. They still have you in the system.”
Pennsylvania-born residents also don’t need a paper birth certificate, and can fill out a PennDOT short form instead.
Daryl Schafer, chairman of the county Republican Party, said preparing for the election will take voter education from both parties. His group will offer information at the various events it attends, including summer fairs.
“Especially since this came from the (Gov. Tom) Corbett administration, there’s going to be some streamlined procedures set up to get people the photo IDs that they need,” he said.
“There’s still time to get that done.”
Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter@jVanReporter.