Puerto Ricans in Pa. face extra challenge to get voter IDs

Navigating the process of getting a photo ID to vote in the November presidential elections in Pennsylvania is cumbersome at best. But for a whole group of citizen, it’s like entering an endless labyrinth of paperwork and anxiety.

Imagine, if you will, that in one clean sweep, your state government invalidates all birth certificates. You are left with few ways to prove you are you. That’s exactly what the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico did in 2010 to combat a proliferation of identity thefts.

As American citizens, those born in Puerto Rico were forced to start the long bureaucratic process of applying for new birth certificates. The confusion and anger the measure generated then has been reignited by Pennsylvania’s new law requiring a photo ID to vote.

Philadelphia Deputy Commissioner Jorge Santana says it could make it tougher for some voters to get the paperwork necessary to apply for that photo ID.

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“They’re concerned about not being able to vote because they don’t have an ID and they don’t know how to do that,” he said. “So it’s just an extra level of applications and paperwork that others don’t have to go though.”

Half of Pennsylvania’s overall Latino population of 366,000 is Puerto Rican. And more than a third live in Philadelphia.

Voting rights organizations are worried how long the whole process might take, especially if native-born Puerto Ricans have to obtain a new birth certificate from the island’s authorities.

In the middle of the confusion, there is an increasing sense of urgency, says Cynthia Figueroa, president of Congreso of Latinos Unidos.

“It’s not a matter of whether there are steps that can be taken,” she says. “It’s a question of having to act now, the amount of time it’s going to take to get a photo ID if you have no documentation to back it up, especially if you are Puerto Rican and need that birth certificate. It’s going to take more time, she said.

City Commissioner Stephanie Singer says it’s all a question of fulfilling a citizens basic right.

“Because it’s essential for Americans, all of my fellow Americans, whether they speak English or not, they should have the right to vote and have equal access to the ballot box,” Singer said.

The city commissioners office, Congreso of Latinos Unidos , the Committee of 70 and other voting right organizations are working to help voters get their IDs in time to cast ballots this fall.

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