B-PEP calls for voter volunteers

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Joined by partners from the NAACP, the Alleghenians, the Black and White Reunion, The Western PA Black Political Assembly and others, members of the Black Political Empowerment Project denounced the state’s new voter ID law and asked for help in making sure everyone who needs a valid ID has one.

At an Aug. 20 press conference at St. James AME Church in Larimer, B-PEP Founder Tim Stevens announced a series of cooperative efforts to educate voters and make sure they are in compliance with the law’s “onerous requirements.”

“This bill doesn’t just require ID, it requires very specific pieces of ID that were not required in the past,” he said. “The Commonwealth has set up a very bad situation for voters as well as for the poll workers.”

Judge of Elections and Black Political Assembly member E. Richard Phipps said there are thousands of people who may think they have proper ID only to find they do not. As an election judge he said he would have to disallow student photo IDs that, like most, do not have an expiration date.

He said another reason people could be turned away is that the name, as printed on their ID doesn’t exactly match what is printed on the voter registration rolls at the board of elections. Whether a middle name is present or not, a middle initial, could make the difference. Though election judges have some leeway in ruling on such inconsistencies, but they also have a powerful incentive to be sticklers.

“If I let someone vote without a ‘proper ID,’ I could be sentenced to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine and lose my voting privileges for four years,” said Phipps.

NAACP of PA Local Civic Engagement Coordinator Celeste Taylor, said B-PEP and several organizations are augmenting their “roll to the polls” efforts by driving people to PennDOT photo ID centers, and asked for volunteers to help with that effort.

This is a daunting task. We’re talking about reaching 90,000 people in Allegheny County alone,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to have a lot of partners. It’s time to protect the rights of voters. We need people to help register, to drive, to man the phones and get out the information about complying with this new law. Trust me, you will be used.”

Pittsburgh Councilman Bill Peduto said he might need a ride to PennDOT to get a new ID.

“I’m one of the 90,000. On my registration card, my first and last names are squeezed into the ‘first name’ field,” Peduto said. “Now poll workers have discretion to deal with things like that, but there will be political operatives there to challenge voters. So we have work to do. Don’t let them scare people.”

B-PEP urges all churches to volunteer their vans, and members to this effort.

For information on voter ID compliance and assistance, call 1-800-OUR-VOTE (687-8683). Stevens said state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D- Lawrenceville, has updated his website with ID compliance information and downloadable forms. Those wishing to volunteer or needs to be taken to get an ID should call 412-471-1024 or 412-758-7898.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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