While it is critical to consider both sides of any issue, pitting GOP arguments for the PA Voter ID Law versus Democratic arguments against the law is a flawed comparison. We are simply not debating 2 sides of the same issue. The Republican argument defends the general concept of requiring a form of ID to vote, whereas the Democratic objection focuses on the specifics of implementation of the law. (That is perhaps why common ground on this topic has been elusive.)
GOP defenders of the law love to tick off a list of activities for which they claim a photo ID is already required in their daily lives—using a credit card, buying certain products in a grocery store, doing certain business at the bank, and so on. Many of these are not relevant to the argument simply because they represent privileges that a merchant is offering to its customers (renting a movie is one that I’ve heard often), not a fundamental American right such as voting.
One common argument—that photo ID is needed for a visit to the doctor—simply does not work for this argument. Think about it: Many of the voters in our suburban North Penn area who need assistance to comply with the voter ID law are elderly. Are we to believe that these senior citizens are not seeing any doctors because their driver’s licenses are expired by more than a year? I don’t think so. (Many of us may have been asked for ID at the doctor, showed our valid driver’s licenses, and all was well, so we had no reason to question what would have happened if we had not had the ID. Obviously, everyday life already involves alternative ways to prove identity.)
The GOP’s companion argument, that a majority of citizens are in favor of voter ID, is public reaction to—again—the general idea of voter ID, not to the specific way it is being implemented in the state. (And most citizens simply are not aware of what many elderly or disabled people are going through to regain a cherished right that they have enjoyed all their lives.)
Our Democratic objection to the voter ID law highlights the partisanship, haste, and lack of care that have gone into its passage and implementation. There are a lot of devils in those details.
It must be stated upfront that the law’s partisan nature is evidenced by the now-viral quote by Republican state representative Mike Turzai: that the law will enable Mitt Romney to win Pennsylvania—a GOP goal “done.” But even if that cat had not been let out of the big Republican bag of tricks, there is plenty more to criticize about this law.
The timing is suspect. All across the country, voter-suppression laws were hastily passed in Republican-led states, just in time for the 2012 Presidential election on November 6. And this occurred without any evidence of an increase in voter fraud, which remains very rare. Why was this effort so urgent all of a sudden? Even the Governor was unable to tick off even a few of the documents that constitute acceptable voter ID according to his own law.
One by-product of this hastily passed law is ill-prepared workers at PennDOT centers who attempt to charge elderly folks $13.50 for a free service and who jump at any opportunity to reject documentation rather than examine it to see if it meets the criteria of the law. Unclear guidelines and little-publicized rules are another byproduct. Did you know that a disabled voter should not use his or her driver’s license number on the absentee ballot application form if the license is expired by more than a year as of Election Day? (instead, the last 4 digits of the Social Security number should be used in such a case).
I confirmed this detail via telephone correspondence with both the Department of State (1-877-VotesPA; www.VotesPA.com) and Montgomery County Voter Services (610-278-3275; www.montcopa.org/voterservices); however, this limitation is not evident on the form itself, in the attached instructions, or on the corresponding websites.
Yesterday I was asked to assist an elderly voter (a stroke victim) who was born in Pennsylvania, never had a driver’s license because of her disability, does not have a birth certificate, has a Social Security number printed on a Medicare card but does not have her Social Security card, and is not the person who pays her bills in her household and therefore does not have the usual utility bills to use as her proofs of residence. For this one single voter, I spent several hours on the phone with her, the Department of State, another party to whom the Department of State transferred me but could not help and suggested I call the Department of State… you get the picture. Once we are able to establish definitively which documents will work in her unique case, I plan to take her to the Dublin PennDOT center (where the lines are reputed to be shorter and the workers more knowledgeable and cooperative than at Norristown). The Pennsylvania Department of State was not sure(!), but she may need to arrange a second trip later to pick up her ID card.
For every single voter who has reached out to us for help in obtaining their voter ID, how many more are there who don’t know whom to turn to or don’t yet realize that they lack what they need to vote in the Presidential election?
Another worry of mine is for the hundreds (thousands?) of married women whose maiden names appear on their voter registration but whose married names appear on their driver’s licenses. This discrepancy has never been an issue before, so they may not realize that it will present a problem at the polls this November 6.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear the appeal on September 13, should strike down this poorly-thought-out law for the all-important election this fall. We can’t let Pennsylvania in 2012 become another Florida 2000. After November 6, any discussion or legislation on this issue should take into account both the general idea and the complex specifics of a major change affecting one of America’s most cherished rights.
Secretary of the Lansdale Democratic Committee and
North Penn Democratic Committee
Contributions by Jack Hansen, Chairman of the Lansdale Democratic Committee and Lansdale Borough Councilman
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