For weeks, everyone interested in Pennsylvania's voter identification law had one place to focus their attention -- the Harrisburg courtroom where a judge was considering a challenge aimed at blocking the law from taking effect in the November presidential election.
But now things get more complicated.
With Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson Jr. turning down that challenge, the controversy over voter ID shifts to hundreds of different, disparate locations throughout the state, all potentially important in determining who will be able to vote Nov. 6:
The state Supreme Court, where Simpson's ruling is already under appeal.
The Department of State in Harrisburg, in charge of election apparatus. Just before Simpson opened hearings on the law, the department committed the state to providing a new variety of "voter-only" ID card, not yet available to the public. Department officials are to meet in State College this week with county election officials, hoping to clarify details of how the new ID should work.
The Department of Transportation, now an essential cog in state election machinery on top of its duties licensing drivers and maintaining roads and bridges. PennDot's 71 licensing centers, open for varying hours in 58 counties, are now the main source for most eligible voters to get the ID they will need to vote -- including the new "voter-only" cards that are supposed to become available Aug. 27.
Election offices in Pennsylvania's 67 counties, now described by state officials as the final authorities on whose ballots will count in November. Registered voters whose ID are found deficient at their polling places will be permitted to cast provisional ballots; then they'll have six days after the election to produce ID -- and hope their county board of election accepts it.
Hundreds of civic organizations, churches, labor unions, senior-citizen groups, and housing agencies, now playing critical but unofficial and unpaid roles in educating the public about the new voter ID requirements, advising individuals on exactly what documents they'll need to vote in November and in some instances providing transportation and physical assistance to get people to the right PennDot location.
"Judge Simpson's ruling changed the game and really focused attention on this issue, in a lot of different places," said Zack Stalberg, president of the Committee of 70. "In that sense it was good, whether you agree with it or not."
His group is a charter member of the PA Voter ID Coalition, formed by some 150 organizations to educate voters about the law and assist those who need help getting acceptable ID.
"Now there are a lot of moving parts, so there definitely is plenty of confusion," Stalberg said. "This is a by-product of passing this law relatively close to a presidential election in which Pennsylvania is likely to be a critical swing state. Had it been done in a different year, this would be a much more orderly process."
He is not the only one using the word confusion.
There is confusion at PennDot centers, where some people report they were asked to pay $15 -- by money order, no personal checks or cash -- for the nondriver IDs that are supposed to be free. Others tell of clerks' inflexible requests for documents they're unable to provide.
"You're thrown into line with sometimes several hundred other people and there's a good chance your clerk hasn't had any special training in dealing with these voter ID issues," Stalberg said.
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