Voter ID bill gets trial run

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Some voters showing up to the polls on April 24 might have been surprised when they were asked for identification at the place where they’ve been voting for years. Others, aware of the new voter ID legislation signed into law on March 14, came prepared.

Either way, everyone was able to vote. The April 24 primary election was what Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration called a “soft rollout” of the Pennsylvania voter ID bill requiring voters to show identification at polling locations. The legislation won’t be strictly enforced until the November election.

PollTax
POLL TAX—From left: Rev. Richard Freeman, Tim Stevens, William Anderson, Janis Brooks and La’Tasha Mayes. (Photo by Rossano P. Stewart)

“The folks who put this voter ID bill in place have but one goal and that’s to suppress the vote of the working class,” said Jamaal Craig, a Pittsburgh representative with the United Steelworkers. “(We) are committed to making sure anyone who is legally able to cast a vote in November, will cast that vote.”

Craig was one of several speakers at a rally denouncing the legislation on April 18. Standing outside of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Downtown location, the protestors joined in a chant of “poll tax/ID law” in reference to a tax formerly required for voting that was designed to disenfranchise poor people, including African-Americans.

“We need this coalition because it was only 47 years ago that we got the right to vote. The only fraud that occurred was the passage and signing of this bill,” said Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project. “Six months from now, there will be millions of voters who will go to the polls thinking they’re going to vote, but they will be turned away. What we must do is occupy the polls.”

For months, activists have been rallying against the voter ID bill, but now that it’s been signed into law, they say many are having trouble acquiring identification for voting purposes. Under the legislation, people are supposed to be able to receive a free photo identification card from Penn DOT, but some say they haven’t been able to.

“I came down to get my ID and the first time the computer was down so I had to come back and the ID was not free,” said Donald Cooper. “That $13 was a lot.”

Some have also complained that staff at Penn DOT have not been forthcoming with information on acquiring a free ID and have referred people to call an information hotline, which for some has meant a second trip to the center. Others also complain that the process for acquiring an ID still carries a cost since some have had to pay for a copy of their birth certificate, which is required for a state-issued ID.

“Just from those few times I’ve had to help people through the whole process, this is hard work. Some people are not getting free voter IDs because their ID has not been expired for a year,” said Celeste Taylor, director of B-PEP’s Regional Equity Monitoring Project. “These are real people who want to be able to vote.”

While rallies like these continue across the state, the ACLU of Pennsylvania has begun to prepare for a legal challenge of the voter ID bill and is currently looking for plaintiffs. Still, others believe it’s more important to prepare Pennsylvanians so they will be able to vote in the November presidential election.

“We know it’s the law so we’re going to do our darnedest to comply with it,” said Rev. Richard Freeman, president of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network. “We know this isn’t going to be resolved by November.”

Accepted forms of voter ID include, a current Pennsylvania driver’s license, or one that expired after November 2011; a current Pennsylvania photo ID card issued by Penn DOT, or one that expired after November 2011; a current U.S. passport; a U.S. military or Pennsylvania National Guard photo ID; a U.S. government-issued photo ID, e.g., agency employee, armed services, etc.; a current employee photo ID issued by a Pennsylvania county, city, town, township or borough; a current student photo ID issued by a Pennsylvania college or university; and a current photo ID issued by a licensed nursing, personal care or assisted living facility. IDs must have an expiration date to be valid.

In order to obtain an ID from Penn DOT a person must present their social security card and either an original birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or U.S. Passport; along with two forms of proof of residency. It remains unclear why some have not received their IDs free of charge.

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