“It’s Not Just Freaks”: Who’s Affected By Pennsylvania’s Voter-ID Law?
The ACLU’s smart lawsuit shows it’s not just freaks who don’t have government-issued identification.
As the first big lawsuit against the Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law starts its third day at trial, arguments about the legality of the law have focused largely on who’s impacted by it. First, the secretary of the commonwealth estimated as many as 758,000 Pennsylvanians lacked the most common form of ID—those issued by the state Department of Transportation. A political scientist’s study showed that number to be around a million. Either way, it’s a lot of people, and we know a disproportionate number of them are poor, nonwhite, and elderly.
Still, those supporting strict voter-ID laws, which require citizens to show government-issued identification before voting, often cast suspicion on anyone without an ID. They argue that you need photo identification for pretty much anything these days, and people without them must be freaks or criminals—people we don’t want voting anyway. Republican Texas state Representative Jose Aliseda exemplifies this position; he recently said that anyone lacking a photo ID is probably in the country illegally or a recluse like the Unabomber.
In response, the ACLU, along with the other groups involved, made a brilliant move to publicize the stories of the ten plaintiffs. They’ve written up summaries of each person’s plight, made videos, and pushed the stories in the press. Those wondering just who these strange people without ID are getting an answer: Quite a few are little old ladies.
Of the ten people in the lawsuit, five are over 80. The chief plaintiff, Viviette Applewhite, is 93, and arrived in court in a wheelchair wearing “a gray sweater and a white lace hat,” according to Reuters. She was a civil-rights activist who marched in Macon, Georgia, with Martin Luther King, but even with all the time between now and the election, she’s probably not going to be able to get the necessary ID. Applewhite, who does not drive, took her husband’s name. That is the name she had on her Social Security card. But when her purse was stolen, the only document that she could get was a birth certificate—with her maiden name. Applewhite had a common-law marriage, so there’s no document to account for the mismatched name.
Applewhite isn’t the only elderly woman on the plaintiff list. There’s also Joyce Block, a spring chicken at 89, whose Social Security card and birth certificate were in her maiden name while her voter registration was in her married name. Block’s marriage certificate is in Hebrew and apparently the the clerks at the DMV were a little rusty in their ancient languages—they said the certificate could not be used as a proof of name change. Several of the other octogenarians in the case could not get copies of their birth certificates (necessary to get the IDs) because the state where they were born does not issue them.
Of course, older ladies aren’t the only ones in the lawsuit or the only ones with powerful stories. There’s Grover Freeland, a veteran whose only photo ID is his veteran’s card, issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. But that card is not an acceptable form of ID under the Pennsylvania law. The ten plaintiffs all have different reasons why they cannot get an ID, but almost all of them are regular voters who now stand to lose their ability to cast a ballot.
Voting is a citizen’s fundamental duty and right, and those who fall outside of the mainstream have just as much of a right to vote as the mainstream. However, for the purposes of winning public support in this case, the ACLU was smart to choose and highlight relatable people who are impacted by the law. As with Republicans’ claims that voter ID laws were motivated purely by the need to cut down on voter fraud (which is virtually nonexistent), their claim that there’s something downright weird about people who lack photo IDs is now being exploded.
By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, July 27, 2012
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