As attorneys from several community advocacy groups prepare to challenge the state’s new voter ID law in court later this month, others are gearing up to get voters registered and equipped with proper identification so they can vote on Nov. 6.
“Our vote is the most powerful tool we have in a democracy,” said Sharon Williams Losier, an attorney who is helping state Sen. Shirley Kitchen organize a city-wide campaign to educate Philadelphians about the new law, and help them get the ID they will need to cast a ballot.
Attorneys from the NAACP, the ACLU and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia have filed suit in an attempt to block the law. The case is scheduled to begin July 25 in Commonwealth Court.
But, residents shouldn’t be counting on a win in court to preserve their rights, said one attorney in the case.
“We can’t bank on this lawsuit,” said Ben Geffen, a staff attorney with the Public Interest Law Center.
Like Losier, he urged Philadelphians to get the ID they will need without delay.
“This isn’t something you can deal with the day before the election,” Geffen said. “Folks need to be aware of this right now and get the ball rolling.”
Kitchen’s office held the public meeting with attorneys and voter advocates Wednesday in North Philadelphia to solicit community input as to how they can spread the word about the new law and get people motivated.
The state Department of State, which oversees elections, recently estimated that 18 percent of Philadelphians — or 186,830 of the city’s registered voters — do not have a photo ID that meets the state’s requirement to cast a ballot in November.
The numbers, part of a report released last week, found that about 758,000 voters across the state lacked the necessary ID. That translated to 9.2 percent of all registered voters. Losier noted that President Barack Obama won the state in 2008 with a 10 percent edge — an edge that would be removed if the new law succeeds in keeping people away from the polls.
A more detailed look at who state officials expect to be affected by the new law is expected this week. It will take a more detailed look at the demographics of exactly who will be most affected by the new law. Critics have said since the debate on the law started that it would keep the poor, minorities, the elderly and youth from the polls.
“Older adults give up their cars and driver’s licenses but still vote,” said Jim Palmquist, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the AARP, adding that others were born at a time when birth certificates were not always issued. “It’s very difficult to get their birth certificates.”
Geffen said he expected another segment of the population to be hard hit — women. The Pennsylvania law requires that name on a state ID match that on other documents, which means that women who are married may have a more difficult time obtaining proper identification.
“All documents need to show the same first and last name,” he said.
The City Commissioners’ Office has launched a citywide effort to get people registered and make sure they have the ID required.
“We want to make sure that everyone who is registered gets out and votes,” said Gregory Irving, the acting voter registration administrator with the commissioners’ office.
The state’s new law has long been controversial with critics. Supporters said the law was needed to stop voter fraud.
Critics, however, were given ammunition in their argument when Republican state house leader Rep. Mike Turzai said the law will “allow” Mitt Romney to win the state in November, according to a report.
“(The) Voter ID … is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” Turzai told a group of Republicans in late June.
For more information on the state’s new ID requirements, visit www.votespa.com.