In March, Pennsylvania’s governor signed one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country. One study estimated that the law could impose extra burdens on 700,000 Pennsylvania voters, disproportionately affecting the poor, minorities, students and the elderly.
Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic writes today about one Pennsylvanian in her 80s who is struggling to keep her right to vote, sixty years after casting her first vote for Adlai Stevenson. Cohen quotes a letter that Robin Kane wrote to the voter ID law’s sponsor about her efforts to help her elderly mother, Jaqueline, register to vote in Pennsylvania:
For the past two weeks, my sister and I have been trying to help my mother gather the appropriate documents to get the newly required photo ID. The education campaign had inaccurate information and the rules keep shifting, making it difficult for me to understand and it would have been impossible for my elderly mother to do this without assistance.
First, VotesPA and PennDOT websites said she would need to get a non-driver's photo license. To do so, she would need her social security card; an original birth certificate with a raised seal; two proofs of residency; an application; and an oath that she had no other form of ID. My sister and mother spent two days looking for her birth certificate from 1930. They found my dead grandmother's birth certificate, plus ration cards from World War II, and lots of documents of my father's service during that war. But not her birth certificate.
I returned to the websites to learn that even without a birth certificate, she might be able to get the photo ID if the state Department of Health could confirm her birth. However, my mother was born in NY, not Pennsylvania. So, it turned out, this solution didn't apply to her. Instead, I was directed to seek a new birth certificate from the state of New York. Just when I thought we couldn't possibly get this done in time for her to vote, I learned that there is a new option for people exactly like my mom: the new, Department of State photo id for voting.
It still requires her to have her a social security card or number (which we found); proof of residency; an application; and an oath. And it still requires that my 82-year-old mother will travel by bus to a PennDOT office and hope that she has the stamina to wait in multiple lines to complete the process to get a photo ID that she needs for only this one purpose, ever. But she is determined to do so, if she is able. And she will vote against anyone who sided with you in this effort to suppress legitimate votes.
What this really means is that Jacqueline Kane is one of the lucky ones. She has a family that has the means to be able to help her in this fashion. But think of all the other elderly people out there, who won't have a health aid with them, or who don't have access to a bus, or who don't live in elder-care facilities where such opportunities exist. Those people aren't lazy, either. And yet they clearly face disenfranchisement if this law is permitted to stay in effect.
While Kane and countless others in Pennsylvania struggle to meet the voter ID requirement before election day, it’s still unclear whether the law will take effect in November. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently returned a challenge to the law to a lower court, ordering the lower court to halt the law if it’s not convinced the voter ID requirements won’t disenfranchise anybody.
Philadelphia, Penn. – Pennsylvania members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council cautiously praised a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision today that could prevent a suppressive voter ID law from taking effect before November. The state Supreme Court ordered a lower court that had previously refused to block the law to reconsider that ruling, encouraging it to issue an injunction if the state cannot show that the law will not disenfranchise any voters.
“Pennsylvania’s voter ID law was intended to suppress the vote, and will have the effect if it is allowed to go forward in November,” said Rev. Michael Couch of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia, a member of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Although I believe there was more than enough evidence for the Supreme Court to issue an injunction without this extra step, the decision to send the case back to the Commonwealth Court is tentatively encouraging. Our courts must consider the real impact this law will have on Pennsylvanians trying to vote in November.”
People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, founded in 1997, works nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls through the non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.
The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government -- with the obvious exceptions of denying marriage equality and massive government oversight of women's medical decisions. But there is another kind of big government that the party has overwhelmingly, enthusiastically gotten behind: expensive and intrusive attempts to make it harder for Americans to vote.
A trio of federal court decisions in Florida, Ohio and Texas last week ripped the lid off the increasingly successful right-wing campaign to limit opportunities for low-income people, minorities and students to vote -- especially, and not coincidentally, in swing states. These decisions, from even-handed and moderate federal judges across the country, show just how far the Right has gone to use the power of government to disenfranchise traditionally disenfranchised groups.
In Florida, a federal judge permanently blocked a law that had made it almost impossible for good government groups to conduct voter registration drives -- which had led groups like the venerable League of Women Voters to all but shut down operations in the state. In Ohio, a federal court ordered the state to reopen early voting in the three days before November's election, which Republicans had attempted to shut down. Early voting on the weekend before the election was enormously successful in 2008 -- especially among African Americans -- and the judge found that Republicans had no legitimate reason to want it to stop.
And finally a federal court, which is required to review changes in election policy in states and counties with a history of voting discrimination, ruled that Texas' new voter ID law couldn't go forward because it "imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas."
The effort that Republican governors and legislatures across the country have gone through in the past two years to make it more difficult for citizens to vote is truly remarkable. They have been willing to buck both the law and the spirit of our constitutional democracy to bar groups of people from participating in it. And they have been willing to set up extra layers of government and bureaucracy -- things they claim to despise -- in order to keep people from the polls.
There are plenty of areas of genuine disagreement in our politics, but the right to vote shouldn't be one of them. In an interview with The Atlantic last week, Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement, said "there should be public outcry" and a "sense of righteous indignation" at what is happening to our elections. He's right.
It's astounding that nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act banned racial discrimination at the polls, it's still needed as a shield against such egregious violations of its principles. And it's astounding that the self-proclaimed party of small government wants to use government's power to keep people from exercising their fundamental right to vote.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley took to the stage at the Republican National Convention Tuesday night, asserting her unwavering support for voter identification laws that make it harder for Americans—particularly minorities, students, and the elderly—to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
Philadelphia, PA – A coalition of African American pastors spoke out today against a state judge’s refusal to halt the implementation of Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, a move that could put low-income, elderly, minority and student voters at risk of disenfranchisement in November’s election.
Members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, said that the decision not to stay the voter ID law could suppress the votes of those who have traditionally struggled to exercise their right to vote.
“The purpose of this law has been clear from the beginning,” said Rev. Michael Couch of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia. “It was meant to keep African Americans, students, and other traditionally suppressed communities from exercising our hard-won right to vote. Even the law’s supporters have admitted that there is absolutely no evidence of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania. Instead, this law is a purely political attempt to disenfranchise citizens who have every right to vote. I am dismayed at today’s decision and hope that as this case moves through the courts, our judges recognize the ugly intent and real consequences of voter ID.”
The African American Ministers Leadership Council, founded in 1997, has been working nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls in every election, most recently through the newly-launched non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.