Blog of Rights

Thousands of Pennsylvanians at Risk of Losing the Right to Vote

By Sara Mullen, ACLU of Pennsylvania at 3:04pm

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the state’s discriminatory voter ID law. Pennsylvania joins a growing number of states that have enacted voter suppression measures which will keep minority voters, African-Americans in particular, from casting a ballot. The new law is set to go into effect just in time to keep many long-time Pennsylvania voters from the polls in this year’s presidential election.

Viviette Applewhite is a 93-year-old African-American who has voted in almost every election since 1960. Viviette marched for civil rights with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Macon, Georgia. Her daughter was a public servant. She has five grandchildren, nine great grandchildren, and four great-great grandchildren. But today, Viviette cannot vote in Pennsylvania because she does not have the necessary ID under the state’s new voter ID law.

The voter ID law, signed by Gov. Thomas Corbett on March 14, requires voters casting ballots in person to present ID from a limited list of photo IDs, including driver’s licenses issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and government-issued employee ID. Many otherwise acceptable photo IDs, such as those of issued by Pennsylvania colleges and universities and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, will no longer be accepted because they lack the required expiration dates.

Voters now have to jump through costly and burdensome hoops to get the required ID; they must either produce a raised-seal birth certificate or an official Social Security card. But some people simply cannot obtain a birth certificate either because one was never issued, records were destroyed, or because of clerical errors when recording the birth. The $10 non-waivable fee to obtain a birth certificate doesn’t include the time and money needed for travel and postage, which for many voters is a significant obstacle. 

Although Secretary of State Carol Aichele has publicly stated that all voters who need a photo ID to vote will be able to obtain a free ID from PennDOT, the reality for those seeking them has been very different. Dozens of reports have been received about the agency’s refusal to issue free IDs either because people have had an ID in the past or their ID has not been expired long enough, or they don’t replace lost ones for free, or for people with outstanding child support and fines. 

In addition to the complaint, the ACLU of Pennsylvania has filed a motion for preliminary injunction with the court to ensure every voter can get to the polls for the general election.

More information about the case, including client videos and a copy of the complaint, can be found at: www.aclupa.org/applewhite

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