Annette John-Hall: Focusing outrage on the Voter ID law

Joe Certaine will direct operations for the new Voter ID Coalition.
Joe Certaine will direct operations for the new Voter ID Coalition. (ANNETTE JOHN-HALL / Staff)
Posted: July 25, 2012

Last week, I wondered if anyone was as outraged as I was about Pennsylvania's outlandish Voter ID law, which stomps all over our right to vote, supposedly to combat fraud - that is, if said fraud can ever be found.

I just couldn't believe that voters of every stripe weren't protesting and marching against such an oppressive affront to the electorate.

Well, on Saturday, I found plenty of outrage among the volunteers, activists, and officials in Germantown, there for the grand opening of the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition's Philadelphia Operations Center.

Finally.

Outrage - and, even better, action.

Sure, there was plenty of disgust that anyone would have to set up an office to protect the right of citizens to vote. We thought we were past that.

But while lawsuits against the Voter ID law, an ugly poll tax to some of us, work their way through the court, these folks weren't about to sit back and let a full-out catastrophe happen on Election Day.

If even one registered voter, regardless of party, age, race, is denied the right to vote, then that's one too many.

"This law will prevent a lot of people from voting," predicted Joe Certaine, the managing director under Mayor John F. Street, who directs operations at the center on 310 W. Chelten Ave. "We have to let people know what they have to do to comply, or it will be chaos come Election Day."

So a coalition of organizations and businesses - the ACLU, NAACP, League of Women Voters, Committee of Seventy, Black Clergy, Brown's Family ShopRite, and Radio One, among others - secured a building where people can get the information and assistance they need to become eligible to vote under the new law.

People and promise

The center teemed with people and promise during Saturday's festive open house. The hope is that the center will serve as a central clearinghouse for all things pertaining to Voter ID - education, eligibility assistance, even a ride to PennDot if that's what people need.

"Say if Mrs. Jones comes in and says, 'I need help,' we'll have attorneys and trained volunteers here to sit with Mrs. Jones and tell her what to get and how to get it," Certaine said.

What we already know is that there are plenty of Mrs. Joneses out there. According to City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, more than 280,000 Philadelphians are in danger of being without a valid form of ID. Singer's data includes about 100,000 additional voters whose PennDot IDs are slated to expire before the November election.

If you've been following the gross miscalculations of the secretary of suppression, I mean Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, it's not surprising the numbers are up. Remember, it was Aichele who proclaimed in March that 99 percent of all registered Pennsylvania voters had the proper ID.

Now it's more like 750,000 people statewide may be affected. And, according to Singer, those numbers could rise.

Challenging the law

Which is why the Pennsylvania NAACP will oppose the law with a rally Tuesday at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. And it's why Commonwealth Court is scheduled to begin hearings on the ACLU's lawsuit challenging the law on Wednesday.

And it's undoubtedly why the state has pivoted to now allowing voters to obtain special voter ID cards without having to produce a birth certificate or a Social Security card (though they still have to show two proofs of residency).

The ACLU says 80 percent of Pennsylvania voters don't know what they need to do to be eligible to vote.

"It seems like the state is basking in the glow of confusing everyone," Singer spokesman Jorge Santana said. "This is as Orwellian as it gets."

For his part, Certaine is about trying to get as many voters eligible as he can, and if the state's new ID card - scheduled to be issued in late August - helps, so much the better:

"If anything can be done to make it easier for people to get through this nightmare, we have to embrace it."

All week, readers have flooded my mailbox with e-mails expressing their outrage over the Voter ID law and wondering what they can do.

Well, here's where you can put your controlled burn to good use.

"The one thing that holds us together is action," Certaine said. "The center is a vehicle for all of those people who want to do something."


Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986, Ajohnhall@phillynews.com or on Twitter @Annettjh.

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