Cheryl Ann Moore takes a break outside the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation office in downtown Philadelphia while waiting to get a voter-ID card. (Lucian Perkins/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Cheryl Ann Moore stepped into the state’s busiest driver’s licensing center, got a ticket with the number C809 on it and a clipboard with a pen attached by rubber band, and began her long wait Thursday to become a properly documented voter.

Six blocks away, inside an ornate and crowded City Hall courtroom, a lawyer was arguing before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that the state’s controversial new voter ID law would strip citizens of their rights and should be enjoined. Just outside, on Thomas Paine Plaza, the NAACP president was inveighing against a modern-day poll tax at a boisterous rally of a few hundred opponents.

Moore bent over a folding table and carefully filled out the form a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation worker had given her, in the first line she would stand in that day. Her ticket was time-stamped 11:38 a.m. and gave an estimated wait time of 63 minutes, which, said Moore, didn’t seem so bad.

She had been registered to vote since she was 19, and now she was 54.

“I’m on vacation this week,” she said, “so I thought, ‘Let me just get this done now,’ because by the time we get to November, you won’t be able to get in this place.”

She looked around. Nearly all of the 200 plastic chairs in the long room were filled with her fellow citizens — people trying to get licenses to drive mixed in with people trying to get licenses to vote. The bin on the wall that held applications for the “Pa. voting ID” was empty.

When the state’s legislature in March enacted one of the toughest ID laws in the nation, with the support of no Democrats and all but three Republicans, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) said it would “prevent people from cheating in our elections” in a state where Democrats have a registration advantage of 1.1 million people. The Republican majority leader, Mike Turzai, then boasted that the new law “is going to allow Governor Romney to win” the state, which inflamed an already charged debate.

The governor estimated that 99 percent of the state’s 8.3 million voters already had an acceptable PennDOT ID, and other Republicans questioned how any responsible grown-up wouldn’t already have the right card, in a society where photo ID is required to use a credit card or buy alcohol or cash a check.

Cheryl Ann Moore was such a grown-up.

She owns her home, a small rowhouse in South Philadelphia. She’s held the same job for 24 years, as a custodian at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, where she works the 4-a.m.-to-noon shift. To get there, she takes the bus in the middle of the night. She doesn’t have a driver’s license, like thousands of working people in a city with one of the lowest rates of car ownership in the country.

She doesn’t have a bank account. “I pay cash or do layaway,” said Moore. “No credit cards; they’re dangerous.”

On Thursday, she slept in, until about 7 a.m., then got herself dressed to spend the day in Center City in a pair of pressed gray capris, a pink-and-white T-shirt and a pair of pink patent leather sandals.

She stopped at work to pick up the paycheck she gets every two weeks, then went to cash it at the same place she’s been going for years.

“They know me there,” she said, “I don’t need ID for that.”

But she had heard on the news she needed ID to vote, even though “I never had no problem before,” and her daughter, Sharia, who works in day care, had been pressing her. “She already has that non-driver license, so she told me I better get myself one.” Figuring there would be a crowd at the center, she hadn’t stopped for breakfast, and now it was 12:30 p.m., and she was hungry.

On the electronic board overhead, the number being served was C765, so Moore went to Subway and got lunch. There were no more chairs, so she sat down on a heating vent at the back of the room.

Paper chase

There has been confusion for six months about how many registered voters do not have proper ID and about how exactly they can acquire it.

Opponents of the new law have asked the state Supreme Court, which currently has six members (a seventh justice was suspended this year on corruption charges), split evenly among Democrats and Republicans, to block it. The court is expected to rule this month, and some of the justices’ questions on Thursday showed concern that voters might not be able to get their papers in order before Election Day. The latest poll, conducted by the Philadelphia Inquirer, indicates that some 65 percent of Pennsylvania voters support the law. The same poll shows Obama leading Romney by 11 points in the state.

Meanwhile, the voting-access groups have banded together to try to educate the citizenry

The law initially stipulated that the only acceptable proof of identity at the polls was a driver’s license or what PennDOT calls the “non-driver” card. Both required a raised-seal birth certificate from the state and a Social Security card, as well as two proofs of residency.

The law later was amended to include a narrow set of other photo IDs: a U.S. passport; an ID issued by local, county, state or federal government; a military ID; an ID from an institute of higher learning for students or employees; an ID from a state-recognized care facility, such as a nursing home. All had to have expiration dates.

Then the state had to define what constituted an institute of higher education, and it turned out that of 110 universities, 91 didn’t include expiration dates on their IDs.

“I have a training manual I use, and I have rewritten it eight or nine times,” said Ellen Kaplan, the policy director for the Committee of Seventy, a political watchdog group in Philadelphia.

Finally, on Aug. 27, with 10 weeks to Election Day, the state issued what it termed the “card of last resort.”

To get one of those, a person had to first fill out form DL-54A, to apply for a PennDOT free photo ID for voting, then have a PennDOT staffer certify that the applicant did not have suitable documents to get that first ID, then sign an oath that he or she did not have another acceptable form of ID as stipulated by Pennsylvania Election Code Section 102 (z.5) (2), then fill out the Request for Initial Issuance of Pennsylvania Department of State Initial ID for Voting Purposes.

Perhaps 100,000 registered voters lack the right ID, although no one knows for sure; estimates have ranged from 1 to 11 percent of 8.3 million registered voters. Through Sept. 11, the state had issued 7,548 of the free non-driver IDs for voting, said PennDOT spokeswoman Jan McKnight, and 579 of the cards of last resort, 343 of those in Philadelphia — and one of those facilitated by McKnight herself, to the father of Jim Cramer, after the CNBC host complained via Twitter last Wednesday that his dad couldn’t get ID.

‘None of this makes any sense’

“This is a hot mess!” said Moore. “They want people to get out and vote, and none of this makes any sense!”

Pauline Broyaka, a native of Ukraine, was clutching her 1991 voter registration card. “I have no idea what I’m waiting for,” said Broyaka. She had number C805.

Irwin Smith was back for a second day. He had showed up at 8 a.m. Monday, only to find out voter photos aren’t taken on Mondays. Now he was back, holding his birth certificate and his Social Security card. The fact that he had held onto both, through decades of living on the street before he moved to a housing program four years ago, he saw as a sign he was intended to “be part of society again.” He had number C814.

“This is ridiculous,” said Moore. “We are all in this world together. We are as one. We are equal.”

She looked at her watch. It was 1:10 p.m., she had been there for 90 minutes, and C773 was up. “I think I should go get a money order for $13.50,” the fee for the non-driver ID, she said. “I better have that just in case.” She went around the corner to Liberty Market, fished out $13.50 and another buck for the money order.

“Even if I don’t need it, it pays to talk to people, and be prepared,” she said.

At 1:42 p.m., Moore stepped up to one of the eight manned stations and presented her paperwork. Registered to vote? “Oh, yes,” she said. “You want a voting ID?” asked the clerk. “Then you need to fill out this instead.” Moore took another clipboard, and another two-page form. “I already answered most of this,” she said.

A second clerk phoned the Philadelphia Board of Elections, and after a wait, verified she was, indeed, registered to vote. Ten minutes later, she directed Moore to print and sign her name on a sheet of paper labeled “Examiner’s Report.” She carefully detached her pay stub from the address page and offered her proof of residency. She swore her oath of affirmation.

At 2:10 p.m., she got a new ticket — A230 — for the photo line. At 3:25 p.m., after four hours, her number was called, and she scampered over to the camera, only to have the clerk take number A231 and the man standing behind her.

“Hey!” she said, “I’m right here!”

“I already called your number three times,” he said. “Now what?” she demanded.

“Take a new number,” he said.

“This is bull----!” she said. “At the end of all this?” She bit her lip.

At that, another clerk waved Moore to another camera and told her to smile.

With that, after four hours, Cheryl Ann Moore became the proud owner of a laminated Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of State for Voting Purposes Only ID card.

“I feel good!” she said. She grinned, kissed the card, put it inside a compartment in her knockoff Louis Vuitton purse and zippered it shut.