Clergy rally in Philly against voter ID law

The Rev. William B. Moore (left) of the Tenth Memorial Baptist Church talks about a member of his congregation who may not be able to vote on Election Day. DAVID MAIALETTI / staff photographer
The Rev. William B. Moore (left) of the Tenth Memorial Baptist Church talks about a member of his congregation who may not be able to vote on Election Day. DAVID MAIALETTI / staff photographer
Posted: August 14, 2012

A NUMBER of Philadelphia-area clergy came together Sunday night to speak out against Pennsylvania's controversial new voter-ID law, saying it will prevent thousands from casting their ballots.

The Rev. William B. Moore of the Tenth Memorial Baptist Church in North Philadelphia said an 80-year-old parishioner of his is one of them. She was born in a South Carolina home, delivered by a midwife and never had a birth certificate. Without that, she can't get a photo ID in Pennsylvania, even though she has a Social Security card and voted in prior elections, he said.

"She told me, ‘I've been living for 80 years and I can't seem to prove it,' " he said.

Moore was one of several clergy members and community leaders who voiced their concerns about the 5-month-old law at the Bright Hope Baptist Church at 12th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue in North Philadelphia.

"The question is why do we need the law?" asked Bright Hope's senior pastor, Kevin Johnson.

Proponents of the law say it is necessary to combat voter fraud. But opponents argue that actual cases of fraud are practically non-existent and that the move is a smokescreen to restrict hundreds of thousands of likely Democratic voters, particularly minorities, the poor, the uneducated and the elderly, from casting their ballots.

"It's a way to discourage voters and suppress voters," Johnson said. The problem is greater "in the African-American and Hispanic communities," he said.

The most common form of photo ID is a state-issued driver's license. PennDOT recently released a list of 759,000 voters who may not have PennDOT IDs and another list of 906,000 with expired IDs that wouldn't be accepted at polling places in November.

Philadelphia City Commissioner Stephanie Singer said it is estimated that about 9.2 percent of Pennsylvania residents and 18 percent in Philadelphia don't have a photo ID.

As an added obstacle, Johnson said, some residents live 10 miles from a PennDOT office. Churches have taken some parishioners in vans or buses to get photo IDs. "But what happens to those who are not connected to a faith community?" he asked.

Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, vice president and policy director of the Committee of Seventy, said some people who made it to the PennDOT offices have faced long lines, and she worries that hundreds of voters won't be able to make the trip before the election.

"We ought to do everything possible to help people get out and vote, not put up a stumbling block," Moore said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and several Pennsylvania residents have challenged the state law in Commonwealth Court. Judge Robert E. Simpson is expected to rule this week.

Contact Barbara Laker at 215-854-5933 or lakerb@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @barbaralaker.

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