The queues were long at PennDot's Center City motor vehicle office Wednesday as prospective voters lined up for free photo IDs, promised as part of a new state law requiring voters to show identification at the polls.
A provision in the law, which takes effect for the November election, allows applicants to have the $13.50 ID fee waived if they sign an affidavit affirming that the card is needed for voting.
Lying in that affidavit could bring a two-year prison term.
Critics say the law will disenfranchise the homeless, the elderly, and the poor, as well as costing the state millions. Proponents of the bill, passed March 14, say it will help protect voters' rights and deter fraud.
A collective-action group of local organizations gathered Wednesday outside the state Department of Transportation center at Eighth and Arch Streets and questioned whether rights were ever in danger in the first place.
"There's no evidence that it needs to be protected," said State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D., Phila). He said state Senate Democrats had retained counsel and hoped to seek court action within the next few days.
The ACLU is also planning to file suit in the next month.
Critics of the new law fear that it will keep people from the polls. To obtain a photo ID, a person must show a Social Security card in addition to either a certificate of U.S. citizenship, a certificate of naturalization, a U.S. passport, or a birth certificate. Those without these documents have been turned away at the DMV counter.
To obtain official copies of birth certificates, citizens must pay a $10 fee - meaning the photo ID itself may be free, but the process to get it isn't.
"There's nothing about that, in my mind, that doesn't equal a poll tax," said Jennine Miller of Project HOME, an organization that works with Philadelphia's homeless.
Representatives from the ACLU, Protect Our Vote Coalition, the NAACP, Homeless Advocacy Group, and Project HOME were all on hand to help registrants coming to take advantage of the free IDs.
Miller led a chant of "protect our vote" and stopped befuddled prospective voters as they exited the DMV.
"No, you don't have to pay," Miller told a man she had chased down on the sidewalk. "She lied to you."
Takiyah Jennings said that when she first entered the DMV, she was told she had to pay for her ID, but a Project HOME intern persuaded her to return to the counter. Jennings said she had told the DMV worker that she wanted the ID to vote.
"They were trying to give me a hard time again, and then I told them that I wasn't paying," she said. She got her ID on the second try and signed the affidavit.
Miller said DMV workers across the state needed training on how to handle the new - and confusing - ID procedures. It should not be her job to make sure the DMV followed its own regulations, she said.
"What will happen with poll workers?" she added.
A PennDot representative said there were no plans to institute any formal training.
"There always is a learning curve when something new is introduced," said Jan McKnight of PennDot safety administration. "We're here to help and not get in their way or anyone's way of voting."
She said that PennDot had prepared for the probability, since the law passed last week, of increased ID requests, but that it had been business as usual at DMVs across the state. A typical day at the Center City DMV has 525 customers.
Another issue raised Wednesday was the cost to the state for the IDs. Harrisburg allocated $1 million for the free IDs, but state Senate Democrats said the program would cost $4 million. The nonpartisan Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center put the estimate as high as $11 million based on the experiences of other states.
Outside the DMV office Wednesday, City Commissioner Stephanie Singer lambasted Gov. Corbett as allocating only $1 for every $4 needed to implement the program.
"I think that this is directed at Philadelphia," Singer said. The large transient population in the city means that many have lost or never had their legal documents.
Those who have spent time in a homeless shelter, on the streets, or in a similar "precarious situation" easily lose track of their papers, said Patricia Malley, a senior staff attorney with the Homeless Advocacy Group.
"They want to vote. . . . They want to move forward in their lives," said Michelle Levy, managing attorney for the Homeless Advocacy Group. "Basically, now they're not going to be able to because they're not going to be able to get photo IDs."
Contact Liz Gormisky
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This story has been modified from its original print version.