In the 2008 presidential election, African-American voter turnout saw an increase of 15 percent over voter turnout in 2004. However, this trend might not continue to rise in 2012 as more than 25 percent of African-Americans in Pennsylvania, who do not have photo identification, could be turned away from the polls, thanks to a new law passed March14.
“As founder of an organization whose goal is to ensure that African-Americans vote in each and every election, I find the passage of this bill as an affront to our mission,” said Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project. “The important question we must be asking is why did this happen all of sudden when we have an African-American president. B-PEP is a non-partisan organization, but we’re also not stupid. Why is it that when we have an African-American president we decide to change the rules?”
The new mandate, signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett, requires voters to show a photo ID such as a driver’s license, student ID, county or municipal card, or ID from a personal-care home. Voters who do not have photo ID when they arrive at a voting center would have six days to present election officials with an acceptable ID.
“Now that it’s signed, what we’re doing is looking at creating what will amount to a bookmark, which will clarify what is acceptable photo ID and what will not be so there’s no confusion. We’re also going to be providing on that, the listing of the key voter ID centers and maybe a website where people can go to get information,” Stevens said. “Every center does not do photos, so what we want to do is provide absolute clarity.”
B-PEP is joined in their efforts by the Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly, the United Steelworkers, and Delta Sigma Theta sorority who first came up with the idea for an informative bookmark on the voter ID legislation. Meanwhile, the ACLU is also looking into challenging the law.
“We want to make sure we’re not missing anything. There’s going to be a collaborative meeting on this to see how the various groups can in a united way fight the impact of this bill. B-PEP will be completing this bookmark, which will give key info. We will be getting these out to churches and other organizations,” Stevens said. “We will be launching what we call the Campaign for Victory: Occupy the Polls, to take a negative and make it a positive to increase African-American turnout. We want to use this as a motivational opportunity.”
Others are concerned with the cost of the new law and its burden on taxpayers. According to State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who sponsored the bill, voters who don’t have photo ID, will be provided with one “free of charge from the state of Pennsylvania,” although they will still have to pay for an official copy of their birth certificate, if they don’t have one.
“At a time when we need to focus on creating jobs and getting the economy back on track, Pennsylvania Republicans have spent significant time trying to disenfranchise voters at a cost of $11 million to taxpayers,” said Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn. “Today, Republicans passed this misguided legislation. It is an unnecessary and costly piece of legislation that is truly a solution (in) search of a problem. Republicans should have spent their time working on legislation to create jobs instead of engaging in a political power grab. Despite the Republicans’ attempts to silence voters, Democrats will ensure that every voter in Pennsylvania will have their voices heard in 2012 and beyond.”
Since Gov. Corbett signed the new voter ID legislation into law, the Pennsylvania Obama Campaign announced they are committed to getting all eligible voters to the polls in November.
“It is unfortunate that lawmakers in Harrisburg have wasted time and energy to pass a costly bill to address a non-existent problem, rather than focus on creating jobs and restoring economic security for Pennsylvania families,” said local Press Secretary Jennifer Austin. “The Obama campaign is committed to working hard to register voters and educate people about the process to ensure that all eligible voters can get to the polls and exercise their right to vote in support of the president in November.”