With the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law facing trial in Harrisburg, observers are reminded that the numbers floating around about who cannot vote represent real people with real stories, none of whom deserve inferior voting rights.
Republicans continue to argue that the wave of new voter ID laws is a result of voter fraud and the need for its elimination. But people willing to remove the partisan blindfold can clearly see that Voter ID is a means to an suppressive end, intended to disenfranchise voters based on socio-economic factors. As Dan Froomkin of The Huffington Post recently pointed out:
This is not simply another gratuitously partisan act by the GOP. This is an attack on the very notion of democracy. The voter ID push, along with intimidation of voter registration groups and purges of voter rolls have only one goal: blocking legitimate but probably Democratic voters from exercising their constitutional rights. It is a poll tax with a new twist.
And the pursuit of this goal ostensibly in the name of voter fraud is an outrageous deception that only works if the press is too timid to call it what it really is.
Voter ID laws can effectively act as modern poll taxes. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has called them exactly that and the Department of Justice is beginning to investigate Pennsylvania’s take.
This week, in a Pennsylvania courtroom, several people told their stories who will be unable to vote due to the state’s controversial new law. The speakers and their experiences were diverse, but there was a common theme: American citizens unable to participate in their nation’s election process. One such case was that of 89-year old Joyce Block, currently “not qualified” to vote in her home state:
Joyce Block, 89, was born in Brooklyn, the daughter of vaudevillians. She married in the 1940s. She is Jewish and her marriage certificate is in Hebrew. Her Social Security card and her birth certificate are in her maiden name, “Joyce Altman.” She never got a driver’s license “because I felt everyone was safer without me on the road.”
Since registering to vote when she was 21 – she voted for FDR – she has not missed an election. In 2010, ill and in the hospital, she was determined she was not going to miss the election and refused to vote by absentee ballot. “I wanted to make sure I voted,” she said. “And I carried and carried on until they let me take a wheelchair and I voted.”
When she heard about the new law, she had her granddaughter take her to the PennDOT center. She was told that because her Social Security card and birth certificate were in her maiden name, she could not get photo ID. She showed the technician her marriage certificate. He said he couldn’t read Hebrew.
Perhaps most disheartening about these stories is that they often involve the elderly who, after decades of steady voting, are now being told they are no longer qualified to do so:
Bea Bookler, 94, was born one year before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing American women the right to vote.
Today, she seldom leaves her room at the Devon Senior Living Center. She spends her days reading and watching television. The only times she goes out anymore are on rare and special occasions, when her daughter will take her out for lunch. Also, she goes out twice a year to the election polls, which are next door to her home. Bookler is unsteady and shakes during her testimony and says it’s just too hard to get around anymore.
Over the years, she has lost her Social Security card and her birth and marriage certificates. While she could sign a form attesting that she has no identification and be granted a special ID used solely for voting, it would still take a trip to PennDOT, something she is physically unable to do.
“It’s too hard,” she said. “You can see I’m not exactly mobile. I get dizzy and shaky.”
During her testimony, Bookler was asked why, if it’s so hard, she bothers to go to the polls. The question seemed to confuse her. “I would never not vote,” she said.
“How proud I am to live in a country is a real democracy. And anything that prevents people from voting is taking away our democracy.
“Democracy is only real if we all participate.”
If voter fraud was a real problem in Pennsylvania then perhaps Voter ID would make a sliver of sense, but it has already been proven that PA has never had a case of voter fraud. To undermine the voting rights of people like those who spoke at this hearing (and 9% of the state’s voters in total) is plain wrong.