Voter ID Law a Hot Topic at Candidates' Meeting
A statewide candidates meeting Tuesday focused on the new law.
Approximately 100 people gathered Tuesday night at the West Oak Lane Charter School to hear from local elected officials, local candidates, and three candidates running for office in the statewide races for attorney general and treasurer.
They also heard a lot about the new Voter ID Act, which would require people to show a government-issued ID to poll workers before they vote. A large part of the meeting focused on that. (A second story about the statewide races is coming Friday.)
City Councilperson Marian Tasco organized the event and introduced the speakers, many of whom emphasized the need to dispel myths about the new act. They also said they wanted to get out the vote for next week’s primary election.
“I am running for re-election because I want to do everything I can to beat Tom Corbett’s politics in the next session,” said state Rep. Mark Cohen.
Calling him “the worst governor we’ve had in Pennsylvania since World War II,” Cohen said Corbett's signature on the Voter ID Act has undone years of efforts to make voter registration easier and increase participation in the electoral process.
“Voter ID is making it tougher to vote,” he said. “Everything Corbett is doing hurts our community. This is an administration that has to be stopped and I’m one of the people who recognizes that.”
Malik Boyd, who is President of the Philadelphia Young Democrats and is currently running to replace state Rep. Rosita Youngblood, said it is “extremely important that we educate voters about Voter ID.”
The act was signed into law last month and will require poll workers to ask for identification from prospective voters next Tuesday, but those without it will still be able to vote in the primary.
However, those who want to vote in the general election this November will be required to produce an unexpired photo ID issued by the U.S. Federal Government, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or municipal and county jurisdictions.
Boyd and others want voters to know that they should not be deterred from voting in the primary even if they do not yet have acceptable identification. “It’s not true that you need ID to vote in this election,” he said.
Dennis Lee, the Deputy City Commissioner, said that on Tuesday there should be over 1 million people at the polls.
“Nothing has changed yet,” he said, urging political and community leaders in the audience to get the word out. “Tell people—go to the polls. Go in there and tell them to vote.”
17th Ward Leader Mabel Windham added her voice to the call for voter participation.
"It’s a very serious election because of the ID ... it’s almost as if they want to take all of our rights away,” she said.
Tasco and other Democrats representing areas of the Northwest with significant numbers of senior citizens and minority voters see the ID Act as something that disenfranchises legitimate voters who will find it difficult or impossible to get appropriate identification.
Many older people were born at home rather than in a hospital and often in other parts of the country, and birth certificates were often not issued, which are often needed for federal identification.
State Rep. Cherelle Parker pulled no punches, saying the act was a deliberate attempt to suppress minority voters in urban areas.
“We don’t have to be mathematicians,” she told the crowd. “We can count the votes.”
In the general election of November 2008, the Obama/Biden ticket won by a 620,000 vote margin in Pennsylvania.
“You think it’s a coincidence that they passed this bill for November when last time Obama only won by 620,000 votes?” Parker asked. She paused and looked out at her audience. “Guess where 595,000 of those votes came from—Philadelphia.”
Parker said it is imperative to fight the Voter ID Act on three levels – legally in the courts, legislatively through a bill to repeal the law, and through education to get people out to vote.
To pessimists who doubt that change can be effected with a Republican majority in the state legislature and with a Republican governor, she reminded them of the successes of ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote in 1920 and of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“We will not let people keep us away from voting,” she said, recalling days of poll taxes, literacy tests, and other obstacles faced by African Americans attempting to vote before 1965. “People of my generation take it for granted because we were the beneficiaries of those who came before us who did all the hard work.”
According to the ACLU, which, together with the NAACP, has filed suit against the legality of the Pennsylvania law, studies indicate that up to 11 percent of American citizens nationwide do not have government-issued photo ID.