On Friday, September 14, I had an experience that provided a first-hand look at the consequences of Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law.
My next-door neighbor is 96 years old, sharp as a tack. But she doesn’t drive anymore, her license is expired; she does, however, want to vote in November. She needed to acquire one of those state-issued, appropriately dated, photo-IDs to satisfy the requirements of this new law.
She called, asked if I could drive her to the PennDOT photo center in Danville, minutes away. Sure, why not. We get there, but they can’t help her. Seems they were given neither the authority nor the proper paperwork to provide the photo IDs required by this new law. The woman behind the counter told my neighbor she had to go to the PennDOT Division of Motor Vehicles Licensing Center in Selinsgrove, roughly a 40 minute drive each way in afternoon traffic.
We made the drive, and of course the place is full, with the usual line of teens applying for driver’s permits or behind-the-wheel driver’s tests, or folks doing all of the usual business people have with the State Division of Motor Vehicles. A kind teen relinquished his seat so my neighbor – remember, she is 96 and uses a cane – can sit. And wait.
I stood in line for her for nearly an hour. Once I got to the head of the line, the beleaguered but patient woman behind the counter helped my neighbor obtain her photo ID so she can vote. My neighbor presented her expired license, there was a form to fill out (a DL54-A), and 15 to 20 minutes at the counter. They never even took a new photo: they used her 8 year-old picture from the expired license.
The good people working for the DMV provided another perspective. They told of the increased workload, but no extra funding and little training. Perhaps most frightening, they have had relatively few visits to date from citizens like my neighbor. They fear a deluge of such requests in the weeks to come.
I got home three hours later, my eyes opened by the ordeal.
Those who say obtaining a photo ID is easy, or “not a problem” have no idea what they are talking about. With this legislation, Pennsylvania has put every possible barrier between this 96 year-old citizen and her right to vote. Undaunted, this spirited woman, between stories of how she once rode the trolley between Selinsgrove and Sunbury for seven cents, (“Less than a penny a mile!”), always returned to her citizenship mission, saying “I’ve voted in every election since 1937, and I’m not about to miss this one.” I hope she’s not alone in her determination.
According to the Sunbury PA DAILY ITEM, a state comparison found that there are 758,000 Pennsylvania registered voters who lack a driver’s license.
These are the elderly, like my neighbor, who wisely gave up driving a few years ago, as well as the disabled, and folks too poor to own cars. They are rural people, like my neighbor, as well as suburbanites and city dwellers. “In the Valley,” the DAILY ITEM stated, “there are 8,700 people caught in this trap.”
What could be worth putting a 96 year-old woman through this? What could be worth potentially disenfranchising three-quarters of a million citizens?
Please don’t say this law is to prevent at-the-polls voter fraud: our PA Attorney General testified in court that there has never been a documented case of such fraud in the Commonwealth. It would be like passing a law to prevent purple-striped giraffes from climbing around inside your chimney.
So you can scrape away all the politicians’ sanctimony about “protecting the legitimacy of the vote.” There may be real issues in how we conduct our elections, but those issues are not at the polls.
What then could justify putting our oldest and our most vulnerable citizens through an unnecessary ordeal just so they could exercise their right to vote?
The Heritage Foundation discovered that the demographic sectors least likely to have driver’s licenses were also the least likely to vote Republican. So Republican powerbrokers duped state legislators into believing that Voter ID laws would be hugely popular, and could be framed as “protecting the legitimacy of the election process.”
On June 23, 2012 Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Mike Turzai let the cat out of the bag. Speaking to his Republican caucus, Turzai listed the accomplishments for the session, saying, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: Done.” I so wish Representative Turzai could have spent Friday afternoon with me and my neighbor, to see what his craven power politics has wrought. It is outrageous. Cynical. Appalling. I hope he’s proud of himself.
• If you want to vote, but don’t have a state-issued, proper photo ID (a current Driver’s License or Passport), go get it, and get it NOW. When you do, share your story with everyone you know about how easy or how difficult the process was for you.
• If you can drive, help your neighbors that don’t drive get their papers together and get to a PennDOT DMV Center. The “clear and concise” information on how to do it can be found at http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/voter/voteridlaw.shtml. Help them get through this maze so they can vote, as they always have. Your elderly neighbors need your help, and they need it now.
• If you find this situation appalling, as I do now that I’ve experienced the run-around first hand, use your vote to replace every one of those legislators who told you Voter ID was a good idea.
I have no idea whom my next-door neighbor will vote for in this next election. That really isn’t my business.
But she’s an American citizen, and she has a right to vote. No decent person would stand between this 96 year-old woman and that right. That’s why I express my outrage at this Voter ID law, at all who voted for it, and all who, despite all evidence to the contrary, support the fiction that this is a good thing for our democracy.