Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court will hear arguments Thursday to make a final decision on the state’s voter ID law—and the case has drawn so much attention that a live stream has been established to watch it. But the battle over Philadelphia’s voter ID isn’t just being fought inside a courtroom: grassroots as well as national groups are organizing to get people the identification they need in order to cast a ballot on Election Day. But it’s not easy. These groups have registered voters in the past, but navigating the requirements necessary to obtain ID requires serious resources that may not be readily available, especially in a bad economy.
Our Philadelphia-based community journalist, James Cersonsky, has been spending time at the local department of transportation, with canvassers, and with organizers who conduct registration clinics and trainings. He reports that while people and aren’t waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision to mobilize, they’re finding it hard to do the work of getting eligible voters the ID they need.
Pennsylvania’s Two-Month Warning
As the courtroom battle over Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law rages on, voting rights activists are racing against time to undermine the spirit of what they say is a law that will disenfranchise otherwise eligible voters. “We’re trying to make sure that we are empowering as many folks on the streets, as often as we can,” says John Jordan, director of civic engagement for the Pennsylvania NAACP. Like many civil rights advocates caught in the voter ID scramble, however, Jordan is only as powerful as his volunteers. “Four years ago we were paying canvassers to do voter registration work,” he says. Now, tasked with informing voters about ID requirements in addition registering them, his organization is “pleading and begging” for volunteers in the effort to get IDs in the hands of voters.
Winded from a clinic in Harrisburg the night before, Jordan suits up on a hot Thursday morning for a meeting with forty senior women at the Bethel Deliverance International Church in Wyncote, a Philadelphia suburb. He tells them that you can be fined up to $1,000 or locked up for two years if you lie on the “affirmation form” stating that you don’t have another eligible ID and need the state-issued voter ID. The audience is outraged.
Amanda Kinton, 75, has lived her entire life in Philadelphia and used to be a poll worker. Previously reluctant to volunteer, she and Jordan launch into a lively post-meeting repartee. “I’ll have to make the time,” she says. Phone calls, doors—“whatever, however.”
Later that day, Jordan, who moved from Birmingham at 17, stands at the Widener Library in North Philly next to a picture of hoses and dogs in Alabama, captioned “How far will they go to deny the vote?” He’s joined by deputy city commissioner Dennis Lee and a host of city workers who, similarly, dart from one presentation to the next. The commissioner’s office has supplied volunteers with voter lists to check name-by-name for ID and is working with ClearChannel to broadcast voting info at Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) stations.