"The bottom line is they don't want us to vote," Outgoing State Rep. John Myers said at a press conference held at Center in the Park on Friday, July 20. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

By Sue Ann Rybak

Several public officials, including State Sens. LeAnna Washington and Shirley Kitchen, said they would not let the state’s voter ID law affect the election in November at a press conference July 20 at the Center in the Park in Germantown.

It is estimated that one in five Philadelphians do not have the photo ID required to vote in Pennsylvania.

Washington urged citizens to act now if they want to vote in November.

“In my district, there is an estimated 40,000 voters who have no picture ID, and they are not going to be able to vote on Election Day,” Washington said. “This will impact what is going to happen on Election Day in November.”

Washington said the impact is “not really about me or you, it’s about our president,” adding that the voter ID law is just a way to disenfranchise “hard working citizens who take their responsibility to vote seriously.”

“What kind of examples are we setting for our children when registered voters are turned away at the polls and are unable to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Washington said. “The Republicans claim that the legislation will reduce voter fraud, but our Commonwealth has the lowest rate of voter fraud in the country.”

Washington described the public-awareness campaign “a movement.”

“This is about our commitment to making sure that nobody takes away our right to vote,” Washington said. “No mater what obstacles they put in front of us … we are committed to jumping those hurdles.” us

Washington reminded senior citizens of the civil-rights protests of their youth.

“This is not a first for us,” she said. “We want to take this back to the streets.”

Kitchen pointed out that “even though Pennsylvania has been assigned $4 million dollars” there has been little evidence of an effort to educate the public about the voter ID law.

“This law is particularly disturbing because it goes after senior citizens,” she said.

Kitchen and Washington both noted that the initiative was part of a nonpartisan effort to make sure that voters are not disenfranchised.

“We’re stepping up to make sure this does not affect how we vote in Philadelphia, especially during the presidential election,” Kitchen said.

Outgoing State Rep. John Myers riled senior citizens by implying that the Republican-sponsored voter ID law is just a way to “make sure Barack doesn’t get the votes he needs in Pennsylvania.”

“The bottom line is they don’t want us to vote,” said Myers, whose animated speech caused a microphone to fall from the podium. “Don’t expect them to be helpful in any way. They want us spinning our wheels. It’s a game they’re playing with us.”

He said the law was a test by the Republicans to see “whether we want to go back 60 years and not have the right to vote again in America.”

Myers said the Republicans believe “that we don’t have the education, motivation, commitment or dedication to get over this hump without their help.”

“We gotta prove them wrong,” he said. “We need to make sure everybody we know votes on Election Day, That’s how we win.”

Attorney Sharon Losier said the law was not about voter integrity but helping Mitt Romney win the election.

“The republican leadership has all ready reported that this law was designed in order to make sure Mitt Romney wins the state of Pennsylvania,” Losier said, referring to House GOP Leader Mike Turzai’s comment last month that the law will help Romney win in November.

Losier mentioned the 2006 report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s Law Center, which found that 25 percent of African-Americans of voting-age have no government-issued photo ID, compared to 8 percent of white voting-age citizens. The report estimated that more than 5.5 million adult African-American citizens lack the ID needed to vote.

“These are undisputed facts,” Losier said. “In 2008, Democrats won the state of Pennsylvania by 620,000 votes. Again, there are 758,000 voters that may not be able to vote. It is the biggest assault on the right of citizens to vote since the end of the Civil War.”

Public Interest Law Center attorney Ben Geffen said the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the commonwealth.

“We represent people like Wilola, who doesn’t have a copy of her birth certificate and the State of Georgia, where she was born, says they have no record of her birth,” Geffen said. “Unless she is able to get a photo ID or unless the court rules this law unconstitutional, she is going to be disenfranchised in November.”

He added that 18 percent of registered voters in Philadelphia do noy have a PennDOT ID that matches their voter ID registration information. Geffen said one mistake people make is forgetting to make sure the name on their birth certificate matches their voter ID information.

“If you’ve married, you also need to get a marriage certificate to document that change,” Geffen said.

Geffen told the audience to “get moving, now.”

“You can’t bank on us winning this lawsuit,” Geffen said.

Gregory Irving, acting voter registration administrator for the City Commissioner’s Office, informed attendees of acceptable forms of ID.

He said PennDOT will issue a free ID for non-drivers and that if you were born in Pennsylvania, PennDOT “should be able to look up your birth certificate with the Department of Health.”

Irving said one way of getting around the photo ID is the alternative ballot. But to qualify for the alternative ballot, he said, voters have to be 65 years of age or older or handicapped, whose polling place is not handicapped accessible.

“We want to make sure whoever is registered to vote in the City of Philadelphia has the opportunity to cast their ballot,” Irving said. “We know it’s going to be a long tedious process, but we are doing everything in our power [to assist voters]. We are in this along with you.”

Hortense Kennedy, 86, of Germantown, is strongly opposed to the law.

“It’s very upsetting for senior citizens who don’t have records,” she said.

Kennedy said a friend, who is in her 90s, recently “had to go through all this.”

“My friend said ‘at this stage in life I shouldn’t have to prove who I am,’” Kennedy said.

On July 20, Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele announced the creation of a new card that can be issued to voters who are unable to obtain the required documents to vote under the original voter ID law. The changes come as Commonwealth Court is scheduled to begin hearings on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the voter ID law. Under the proposed changes, residents can obtain voter ID cards at PennDOT offices after providing their birth date, Social Security number and two proofs of residency, such as utility bills.

“We these new cards will be a safety net for those who may not currently possess all the documents they need for a standard photo ID from PennDOT,” Aichele said in a statement. “Our goals are to continue making voters aware of the new voter ID law and helping those who may not have proper identification obtain it.”

The free voter identification cards will be available beginning the last week of August. The IDs will be issued for a 10-year period and can only be used for voting purposes.

Aichele added that “The creation of these voter cards is an important step in the implementation of the voter ID law. Everyone who needs an ID to vote will be able to get it months before the election.”

Sen. Washington’s office released this statement regarding the recent changes to the voter ID law announced on Friday:

“It’s too little too late,” the release said. “There is only two months to the election and this only adds to the confusion and it’s just the governor’s office trying to make up for the fact that they have written a law that was rushed through and the governor’s office admits in their own statement that was submitted to the Supreme Court that there’s absolutely no evidence of fraud-none. They could not point to one person. The senator is hoping that the Pennsylvania courts will step in.

The law still requires the elderly to get to PennDOT, which has limited hours. Many elderly people are in nursing homes or transitional type of living situations and don’t have transportation.

Linda Riley, director of communications and legislative affairs at the Philadelphia Corporation for the Aging (PCA) said “it is an improvement … it is still difficult for many people to get to PennDOT in order to obtain these photo IDs.

Riley said “186,000 people, just in the city of Philadelphia alone, don’t have photo IDs – that’s a lot of people to try and mobilize in a very narrow window – just eight weeks.

“Rushing this law through is unnecessary,” she added. “There is no justification to why it has to be prior to the next election”

Riley said PCA would be looking into ways to provide transportation for senior citizens.

“One week we’re telling them they need a birth certificate, the next week we’re trying to figure out transportation issues,” Riley said. “Who knows what’s next.”

Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, vice president of Committee of Seventy, said that while the state is trying to make it easier to obtain the necessary documentation for a voter ID card, “the bad news is it isn’t happening until the end of August.
“The question is how do we not only make people aware of the change but how do we advise them?” she said.

Kaplan said it was unclear who is eligible for the changes to the law.

“They have actually made it difficult for those of us who are trying to educate people about what to do,” Kaplan said.

“I can’t responsibly say to any voter to wait until the end of August because I don’t know if they are going to be helped at that point and if they’re not, its perilously close to Nov. 6,” said Kaplan, who has to rewrite the coalition’s guide to the new law for the ninth time. “My best advice is not to wait. We don’t know what the state’s procedure is going to be.”

In a later interview, Geffen said the state doesn’t have any proof of voter ID fraud. He added that the changes to the law would not be finalized until Aug. 26.

Geffen said the state would have to produce approximately 15,000 voter photo ID cards every business day from Aug. 26 to election day to provide photo IDs for those who do not have the appropriate ID required to vote in November.

“It’s a solution to a nonexistent problem,” Geffen said.

Voters with questions about the Voter ID law should call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

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