Annette John-Hall: Angry about voter ID? Do something!

Viviette Applewhite, 93, got her identification - after a wave of media publicity about her case.
Viviette Applewhite, 93, got her identification - after a wave of media publicity about her case. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 22, 2012

I'm sure you remember my meltdown in this space last week after a Commonwealth Court judge upheld the state's ill-timed, ill-conceived and downright devious show-me-your-papers voter ID law last week, a political and poisonous disenfranchisement ploy if I ever saw one.

Believe me, I'm still disgusted. But while a team of lawyers headed by the ACLU battles it out in state Supreme Court, we have to turn our outrage into action.

Now.

It's not just about new voters and the obstacles facing them. Hundreds of thousands of voters who cast a ballot in previous elections could find themselves unable to vote now that they have to prove who they are all over again.

After so many of you flooded my inbox asking what you can do, I got an answer at the headquarters of the Voter ID Coalition, which represents about 150 nonpartisan civic organizations.

The office, at 310 W. Chelten Ave. in Germantown, serves as a regional nerve center for citizens who could use some help verifying whether they need a voter ID or getting documentation, and for those who simply want to volunteer.

Before we go any further, write down this number: 215-848-1283. Make that call if you want to volunteer for any number of tasks the coalition needs.

Last week, a busload of volunteers canvassed parts of Germantown and East Mount Airy hanging voter ID information on doorknobs.

They'll be doing the same thing in Tioga this Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 1:30. The bus leaves from headquarters.

Even if you can't canvass, there are plenty of other things to do. There's phone-banking, there's data entry. You can help man the coalition office. The office also needs supplies to keep it up and running - pens, envelopes, notepads and bottled water.

On Monday, Philadelphia City Commissioner Stephanie Singer also outlined an action plan, which included:

Asking academic institutions and polling firms to donate polling resources.

Asking every Philadelphian to "adopt" two eligible voters without ID and make sure that they get their ID and that they vote.

Asking Philadelphians who don't have ID by Nov. 6 to cast a provisional ballot.

If you live in the suburbs, check with your local League of Women Voters, NAACP or ACLU. All are coalition members who should connect you with volunteer opportunities in those areas.

We should all follow the lead of Jeffrey Pressley of Trans Mercy ambulance service in the Northeast and offer an elderly neighbor a ride to PennDot. Pressley is working with Philadelphia Corporation of Aging to transport seniors in a wheelchair-accessible van to PennDot.

"My main thinking was, a lot of seniors will be needing to go to PennDot to get their IDs. . . . it's about getting them there so they can go ahead and vote," says Pressley, who says he'll wait with and assist seniors while they're in line at PennDot - no matter how long it takes.

We can only hope the process at PennDot goes as smoothly for other voters as it went last week for Viviette Applewhite, the 93-year-old who has voted in every election since she was 21 and who finally got her ID even though she didn't have the required Social Security card.

PennDot granted her an exception anyway, proving what the state claims it has been saying all along: that age and other factors can be taken into consideration when granting exception.

Maybe. I'm guessing if Applewhite's face hadn't been splashed all over newspapers, TV, and online as the highly visible lead plaintiff of the lawsuit challenging Voter ID, she wouldn't have had the chutzpah to go to PennDot (accompanied by a reporter) with nothing more than a handwritten Social Security number and a birth certificate with a name that didn't match.

Voters, don't try this at home.

"While we're really delighted for Mrs. Applewhite, we're very concerned about the arbitrary nature and the inconsistency of this law," says Karen Buck, executive director of the Senior Law Center. "Being able to vote shouldn't depend on the whim of a clerk at PennDot."

Buck says she's advising voters to go prepared, so there will be no questions about compliance.

I don't think that thousands of octogenarians standing in line at PennDot was exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they talked about preserving democracy.

GOP legislators may think they've thought of everything to suppress the vote after pushing through the harshest voter ID laws in the country.

Except maybe that voters will show up at the polls in force and beat them at their own game - new rules and all.


For more Voter ID Coalition info: www.seventy.org

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

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