Now that Pennsylvania has passed one of the nation’s toughest voter ID laws to prevent voter fraud, the scope of the questions is drawing criticism.
The first item on PennDOT’s form asks applicants to “describe your religion.” It is followed by more questions that devout followers might struggle to answer, and some that inquire about the lives of family members:
How many members are there of your religion?
How many congregations?
What’s the process by which you came to the religion?
What religious practices do you observe?
Do other family members hold the same religious beliefs?
Submitting that form, once notarized, is not enough. Applicants must fill out another form. And if they lack proof of identification, yet another form must be completed before a nonphoto ID is issued.
Going through this process is essential if those who hold religious objections to being photographed want to vote; anyone who wants to vote must show identification in the November election.
Two Republican state senators, both of whom supported the voter ID law, have expressed concerns about what it takes to get a nonphoto ID. State Sen. Mike Folmer said the questions seem intrusive, and he wonders why all that information is needed.
“They are going to be keeping them from the polls, keeping American citizens from the polls,” Folmer said. “That’s what I’m concerned about.”
“That form is an overreach in my opinion,” added state Sen. Mike Brubaker. “I don’t want persons for religious reasons not to have a photo taken, to go through a process that is any more cumbersome than absolutely necessary to get the proper identification to be able to vote.”
Mary Catherine Roper, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said some of the questions on the affidavit are relevant to determine if the applicant’s beliefs are sincere. But, “I have no idea what the purpose would be of some of the other questions they have here.”
PennDOT indicates it has issued nearly 4,000 nonphoto IDs that are currently valid to people with religious objections. Pennsylvania is home to 61,000 Amish.
PennDOT spokeswoman Jan McKnight said the questions on the affidavit were created by the agency’s lawyers based on federal and state case law.
“It can’t be too simple because we are talking about a legal ID,” McKnight said. “We are not here to stand in the way of them getting their ID, but we’re just recognizing the fact that this is of such importance to them that they don’t want to have their picture taken.”
The answers are reviewed by PennDOT personnel and not shared with any other agency, a requirement of the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, she said.