News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

October 21, 2012

Indiana ID process not always easy

Some find gathering documents required by BMV time consuming

TERRE HAUTE — By the time Margaret Pabst returned to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles branch in Terre Haute for a fourth time, she was ready to scream.

In all, she made five trips to the BMV, one to her bank, and a trip to the Vigo County Annex before she was able to obtain the documents she needed for her new SecureID Indiana driver’s license.

But, by then, “I was not a happy camper,” she said.

In light of Indiana’s law requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot, Pabst said she wondered whether someone without her time and resources could have obtained the ID needed to vote.

She doubts it.

“I don’t see how they could,” she said.

The kind of ID Pabst obtained is called a SecureID and is the type of identification required for people new to the state and first-time drivers. Those with existing licenses can just renew them, receiving what the BMV calls a “legacy” license.

The only difference between a SecureID and a regular driver’s license is the gold star adorning the former. Otherwise, they look like any other driver’s license.

At this point, SecureIDs are optional for people who already have an Indiana driver’s license. Eventually, however, everyone is likely to need a SecureID, said Dennis Rosebrough, deputy commissioner for external affairs for the Indiana BMV at Indianapolis. That’s because of the federal government’s Real ID law, set to take effect next year. That law, which is being challenged by state governors and others, would require birth certificates and other proofs of identity before any state can issue an ID.

Not always easy to comply

In 2005, Indiana legislators passed a bill requiring Hoosiers to show a government-issued photo ID to vote. Republicans said it was intended to prevent voter fraud. Democrats said it would disenfranchise the poor, elderly and disabled people. The bill passed along party lines, 52-45.

A little more than a year ago, Sister Hannah Corbin, a Sister of Providence, moved to Indianapolis from Vigo County and needed a new driver’s license in order to register to vote in her new community. She was not new to the state, nor was she a first-time driver, so a regular “legacy” license was all she needed. Nevertheless, it was an uphill climb.

To get her license, Corbin needed two documents proving her new address. She obtained one, a change-of-address confirmation, from the post office. But finding a second document was much more of a challenge. Most people use a utility or credit card bill. Corbin, who lives in a group setting with other Sisters of Providence, had neither.

After much frustration, Corbin finally obtained a paycheck stub from her employer, something that was not as easy as it sounds because she has direct deposit. In all, the process required several weeks of effort and a total of three trips to the BMV.

For someone without her access to a vehicle, a computer, a printer and time flexibility, “it would have been really difficult” to get even a non-secure ID, Corbin said. “That’s what really surprised me.”

“We’ve worked with them,” the BMV’s Rosebrough said of the Sisters of Providence, adding that, since that incident, the BMV has tried to make improvements that would account for such situations.

“We implemented this in 2010,” he said. “Certainly, as we’ve lived with this, we’ve gotten smarter in how to do things and what to look for.”

Other cases

But there are plenty of other examples of people having trouble getting an ID to vote.

A U.S. District judge recently ordered the Indiana BMV to conduct a hearing for Joesph Worley, a Muncie man who lost his license in 2008 due to a drunk-driving conviction. Since then, Worley has been unable to get an ID card to vote because the name on his Social Security card and his birth certificate do not match.  The name on his birth certificate reads “Joseph Alan Ivey,” but his name on a Social Security application completed by his mother a year later, after she had married her son’s biological father, reads “Joesph A. Worley.” To sort out the confusion, Worley has hired a lawyer and may need to change his name to get an ID, according to the Indianapolis Star.

In May’s primary election, a Vigo County resident was required to cast a provisional ballot because she was unable to get an Indiana driver’s license after moving back to the state from Missouri. New residents must get the state’s SecureID. A divorce meant additional documents were needed and the woman was unable to get the license before Election Day.

Vigo County Clerk Pat Mansard, a Democrat, is strongly opposed to Indiana’s voter ID law, saying it places unnecessary barriers in the way of people wishing to vote. Speaking to the Tribune-Star during the May primary season, Mansard told of an elderly man who showed up to vote without an ID and was offered a provisional ballot. When the man learned he would need to return to the courthouse within two weeks with proof of his identity to make his vote count, he decided it would not be worth the trouble, Mansard recalled.

BMV in the middle

The BMV had nothing to do with passing the state’s voter ID law, but the agency is deeply involved in making the law work in practice. The law requires the BMV to issue, free of charge, Indiana photo ID cards to anyone 18 and older who has the proper documentation.

There are hundreds of thousands of such cards currently in circulation, Rosebrough said.

Right before an election, the Terre Haute BMV office on Margaret Avenue sees a slight increase in requests for ID cards, said Dena Pastorius, team leader at that branch. However, sometimes the people seeking a card are under the mistaken impression they require one in addition to their driver’s license in order to vote, she said. A driver’s license or an ID card can be used for voting, but people are not allowed to have both.

In recent years, Indiana saw the biggest spike in issuing state ID cards in 2008, the year of the last presidential election. That year, the state BMV issued nearly 61,000 ID cards. That figure has dropped steadily each year since, reaching just 44,000 last year, according to figures provided by the state BMV.

Most customers of the BMV are sympathetic to the requirements currently in place to receive a new driver’s license or ID card, Rosebrough said. It can be an inconvenience, but it helps prevent identity theft and, in the wake of 9/11, national security is involved, he said.

“For the minor inconvenience that some people need to incur, we think that the integrity of the credentials issued by the State of Indiana … is worth those additional steps that someone might have to take,” Rosebrough said. “I think the public understands why it’s important.”

Spreading to more states

Secure photo IDs are one thing, but requiring someone to show one on Election Day in order to cast a vote is something else. Presently, that’s the law in Indiana and a growing number of states.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s law, rejecting a challenge brought by the Indiana Democratic Party. Writing for the court’s majority, Justice John Paul Stevens stated that any political issues raised by the law were trumped by the state’s desire to stop voter fraud.

But, in a minority opinion, Justice David Souter reiterated what Mansard and other Democrats have long said about the new law: No one has made the case that voter fraud was even taking place.

Still, tougher voter ID laws are starting to spring up all across the U.S., but many being challenged in court. There are now four states with strict laws like Indiana’s; five more states have passed such laws that have not yet gone into effect, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Since 2005, new voter ID laws have been passed in more than a dozen states, while governors in Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire and North Carolina vetoed laws similar to Indiana’s, the NCSL reported.

In all, well over half the states require some sort of ID to vote.

For Margaret Pabst, she can still feel the frustration she experienced gathering the documents she needed to get her SecureID, which she will be using to cast her vote Nov. 6.

Other who don’t have the wherewithal to cope with the hassle — or the patience to persevere — might be tempted to just give up.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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