How Philly Works: No Photo ID...For Now, Practical Advice for Voting on November 6

After months of uncertainty, changes and court battles involving Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, the matter of whether voters must show a photo ID on November 6 is finally laid to rest.

Or is it?

Some voters are still unsure. With only a few days to go before the election, we decided to clear up the confusion once and for all. And to offer practical advice so that you can have a good experience at the polls next Tuesday. Please spread the word!

Anyone with questions about voter ID or anything related to the elections or voting should call the Election Protection 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) Hotline.

- November 2, 2012

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Give me the bottom line. Is photo ID in or out on November 6?

Most voters are not required to present a photo ID when they go to the polls on November 6.

So is voter ID dead?   

No, it’s still in place, but the part of the law that required voters to present a photo ID at the polls has been blocked from going into effect for November 6.

In other words, the people challenging the law won a battle but not the war.

You could see it that way, although they would probably call the successful fight to keep the law from going into effect less than eight months after it was passed a pretty big win.   

Governor Corbett supports the voter ID law. What does he think?    

He declared victory too, saying that the legal ruling preserved the voter ID law for future elections.

Does that mean voters will need to show a photo ID in 2013?  

They could. This issue will be battled down the road, starting with a court hearing in December. We’ll keep you posted.

Getting back to voting on November 6. No one will ask for my photo ID?

We didn’t say that. Actually someone who works at the polls is required to ask to see your photo ID, just like they were in the spring primary. (In other words, November 6 is a second “soft roll-out” of the voter ID law.) But most voters do not have to show a photo ID when asked in order to vote.

Why are you saying “most voters” and not “all voters?”  

The rules that existed before the voter ID law was passed are still back in effect now that the law is blocked: Pennsylvanians voting for the first time ever, or voting for the first time in a new voting division (let’s say, if they moved and now have a new polling place), are required to show some type of identification. It can either be a photo or non-photo identification.

What kind of photo ID will be accepted?

Examples include a PA Driver’s license or a non-driver’s photo ID, a U.S. passport, a U.S. Armed Forces ID, a student ID or employee ID. Voters who got one of the two free photo IDs issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation before the voter ID law was blocked – a PennDOT-ID or a Department of State ID – can show those too.

What kind of non-photo ID will be accepted?

A voter registration card (that’s the card voters get from their county Board of Elections after they registered to vote), current utility bill, current bank statement, an ID issued by PA or the federal government, firearm permit, current paycheck or government check. All non-photo IDs must have your name and address.  

What happens if a first-time voter or voter voting for the first time in a new voting division forgets to bring some kind of identification?  

They can’t use the voting machines. Instead they should be permitted to vote by provisional ballot, which is a paper ballot that looks exactly the same as the ballot inside the voting booth. After voting, the provisional ballot is put inside a secrecy envelope, which is then put in a provisional ballot envelope. The voter has to sign the front of the provisional ballot envelope.

Does the provisional ballot count?

All provisional ballot envelopes are returned to the voter’s county Board of Elections. Within seven calendar days after the election, the Board is required to examine all provisional ballot envelopes to determine if the voter who signed it is a registered voter and entitled to vote at the voting division where the provisional ballot was cast. If this checks out, and no one challenges the provisional ballot and the voter has not cast any other ballot (for example, an absentee ballot), the provisional vote will be counted.

You said you would give me advice for November 6. What is it?

The first is to know what the rules are for showing an ID. Now you know. The second is to walk into your polling place with your photo ID in hand, if you have one. That way, when you are asked to show a photo ID, you won’t have to fumble around for it (and hold up the line of voters). But again, you don’t need to have an ID or show an ID in order to vote (unless you are in one of the two first time voter categories we mentioned).

What if no one asks to see a photo ID?  

That is likely to happen at many polling places, especially among poll workers who didn’t like the voter ID law to begin with. But, just as in the spring primary, poll workers won’t be penalized for not asking.

Any other advice?   

Yes, if you don’t have a photo ID or if you are not sure about what kind of photo ID might be required for future elections, call the Election Protection 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) Hotline or go to Seventy’s website at

One last thing: If I don’t have to show a photo ID, why did I see a TV ad that showed people holding up photo IDs and saying “Show It?”

Representatives of the state, which produced the ad you saw, say they are following the instructions of the judge who blocked the voter ID law for in-person voters next week to communicate to voters that November 6 will be a “soft roll-out” of the voter ID law, just like in the primary. The ads do say that voters will be asked, but not required, to show a photo ID on Election Day. A recent challenge to the state’s ads as misleading voters was shot down yesterday. As a practical matter, it is probably too close to the election to correct the ads even if the judge ordered the state to do so.


As promised, we will be telling you more about voter ID in the future. For now though, we urge you to focus on November 6 and get out to vote!

And, as we always say at the end of our HOW PHILLY WORKS, if you have something you want to tell us, e-mail

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