Phila. woman in ID case fears she won’t be able to vote again

Posted: August 16, 2012

Viviette Applewhite fears she'll never be able to vote again. But the 93-year-old isn't giving up.

The lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, with Applewhite as the lead plaintiff, could be headed to the state Supreme Court. "If I live to see it, I'm going to be there," she said.

Applewhite, who testified July 25, said she was surprised by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr.'s ruling. "He was really listening and paying attention," she said. "I really thought he was not going to pass it."

Simpson, in his decision, said he was moved by the witnesses' testimony but concluded that the plaintiffs did not establish that "disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable."

Applewhite, who said she had missed only one election since she was 21, said she saw strong political and racial motivations for the voter ID law, and believed it would have dire consequences in the coming presidential election.

"They did it for one reason: to replace Obama," she said. "Now, too many black people can't vote, he will be out."

"I'm praying I won't be here, but I probably will be," she said, noting that her uncle recently died at 106 and her aunt is 104.

Applewhite, who proudly recalls marching with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., views voting as the only way to control her own destiny and the crux of personal liberty.

Theresa Lester lives a few floors down from Applewhite and describes her as "courageous."

"She says if you don't vote, you can't complain," she said.

Applewhite shrugged off the praise. "I felt I was supposed to have voting rights."

Applewhite's ID problem is complicated. Several years ago, her pocketbook, containing all of her important documents, was stolen.

After she tried for years to get a new birth certificate, lawyers helped her obtain one in May. But she hasn't been able to replace her Social Security card because it uses the name Applewhite while her birth certificate lists her father's surname, Brooks.

Even if Applewhite gets a new Social Security card by November, she will also need to show two proofs of residency. She has one - the lease agreement for her apartment. But the utility bills are in her daughter's name, and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials have rejected all of the other documents she has bearing her name and address - welfare statements, voter registration cards, bank files, Medicare paperwork, a letter from the mayor, and a birthday card from President Obama.

Applewhite doesn't have a single document with her photo on it. "I'm stuck, you see. They really got me over a barrel."


Contact Jessica Parks at 215-854-2771 or jparks@philly.com.

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