It's a familiar pattern for elections officials.
Every four years, interest in presidential contests typically swells voter rolls, bringing a flurry of registration forms across their desks as Election Day approaches. But this year also brings at least one new wrinkle for Pennsylvania, in the form of a controversial new Voter ID law.
For one area agency, that has meant coaching would-be voters through one more new and unfamiliar bureaucratic hurdle in the lead up to Nov. 6.
On Sept. 4, United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania kicked off a new voter registration initiative across the agency's sites around Lackawanna County.
"Encouraging civic engagement is an important part of the mission of United Neighborhood Centers," said Michael Hanley, executive director. "There is no more effective means of civic engagement than the ballot box."
At her office in the community services building on Olive Street last week, Community Services Assistant Director Jill Moyle moved among clients who had come to check out clothing and other services.
"Are you registered to vote?" she asked three women. The answer was yes, but clearly there is a need: Her building alone had registered 30 new voters by Friday, Sept. 14. The agency had taken in 60 overall, added Cathy Hardaway, director of older adult programs.
"We try to educate people that voting is how you make a difference," Moyle said.
The last day to register is Oct. 9.
UNC's staff has been trained in the new state law, officials said, and the agency recognizes that some people may have trouble obtaining the necessary ID. UNC staff will work with any individual in need of the proper identification to vote.
Moyle explained that registered voters who do not have one of the required ID forms are entitled to obtain one free of charge for voting purposes from a PennDOT Driver License Center.
Hardaway said this week they already have plans to take eight senior citizens from West Scranton to Dunmore to get IDs.
The agency also will coordinate rides to the polls on Election Day for any community member not able to get there on their own, she added.
Under the law, registered voters who do not have a photo ID will be able to cast a provisional ballot, with six days to provide an ID or make an affirmation to their county elections office.
While the issue for UNC is purely one of assisting would-be voters, the six-month-old law has become a political football for many across Pennsylvania, with critics charging it was a move by state Republicans to disenfranchise minority and low-income voters, many of whom vote Democratic.
Its future was before the state Supreme Court late last week, with a ruling expected possibly by the end of this month.
One Lackawanna County resident on Thursday, Sept. 13 was hoping to organize a rally against the law at Connell Park in Scranton. From there, Tyler Kusma planned a march to the nearby county elections office on Stafford Avenue.
Kusma's appeal didn't attract any marchers, but his efforts did not go unnoticed. The 13-year-old Abington Heights Middle School student collected 400 names on an electronic petition against the law, which he launched Aug. 8 at SignOn.Org. It urges Lackawanna County Director of Elections Marion Medalis to "just say no to enforcing the Voter ID law to the fullest extent of your legal authority."
Kusma's mother delivered the petition to Medalis on Friday, Sept. 14.
"I'm disgusted with it," Kusma said of the law, which he feels was pushed through so "not many people knew it was going to happen."
Medalis accepted the petition, but also told Go Lackawanna that her obligation was clear so long as the law remains in place.
"We have to enforce the law, and that is my stance," she said.
• UNC's ten centers and buildings will be open to the public for voter registration during business hours through Tuesday, Oct. 9, including the West Side Senior Center, 1004 Jackson St., Scranton. For information, visit www.uncnepa.org or call 346.0759.
• For information about how and where to vote, visit the official state website, www.votespa.com