"Even when people tell me they are registered, I tell them to check," said Margaret "Peggy" McGraw of Mount Airy, a retired Verizon employee. McGraw said she had voted in every election since she was 21 - more than 40 years. Nonetheless, when she recently checked her registration status online, she said she could not find her name.
"I tried under every name - Margaret, Margaret A., Margaret Ann. I was not there," she said.
McGraw volunteered to staff the information table at New Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Germantown, where inside, her Mother Bethel pastor, the Rev. Mark Tyler, exhorted the congregation to take home registration forms to give to a niece or nephew, grandchild or neighbor. "All of us know there's someone in our lives not registered to vote."
About 100 parishioners departed from Mother Bethel after the 8 a.m. service, wearing "Let My People Vote" T-shirts.
They went to churches in South and West Philadelphia, Elkins Park, Lansdowne, Manayunk, and Spring House, where team captains addressed the worshipers, and ushers handed out voter-registration material.
Other volunteers were at tables with information about the voter-ID law to answer questions and help people fill out forms.
Critics of the law argue that anything other than a broad injunction would disenfranchise some voters in the Nov. 6 election. The Corbett administration and the Republican-controlled legislature that enacted the law in March insist steps have been taken to educate voters about the law and provide free IDs.
The state Supreme Court directed Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. to enjoin the law if he believes any disenfranchisement would occur. Simpson, who has until Tuesday to decide, said last week he was contemplating a narrow injunction that would focus only on the portion that deals with provisional ballots. Whatever the judge decides, it is expected the case will be appealed back to the state Supreme Court.
The idea of registering everyone in church pews originated at a national meeting of African American clergy affiliated with an interfaith network, PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing), Tyler said.
Jennifer Bistro, 35, manager of a Medicare HMO who registered voters at Josie D. Heard A.M.E. Church in Manayunk, said: "We have the right to vote, and we want to put people in the position to lead the nation, keep us safe, and afford us all the same opportunities to live and have a good quality of life."
Warren Hamilton, 65, a lawyer who accompanied volunteers to Zion A.M.E. Church at 21st and Tasker Streets, said: "It's about getting people engaged and to take responsibility.
"I'm from the old school," said the Queen Village resident, wearing a T-shirt and bow tie. "I registered people to vote in Alabama in the 1960s. There's been a lot of change, but a lot remains the same."
Emmy Award-winning actress Alfre Woodard was in Philadelphia over the weekend "on the campaign trail for the president." She attended the service at Mother Bethel Sunday and went to seven events on Saturday that included voter registration, canvassing, and telephone banks, she said.
Whether the law stands or falls, by Election Day voters must be prepared, Woodard said.
"We'll wait for the courts to do their job, and hopefully a just ruling will come down," she said. "But, meanwhile, we want people to do their job. If there's . . . a requirement, then let's meet that requirement."
Saying the voter-registration campaign was nonpartisan, a Mother Bethel church bulletin instructed members not to "wear anything that supports a particular candidate or ballot issue." Rather, the purpose is "to protect everyone's right to vote."
Geraldine Price, 73, a member of New Bethel A.M.E. in Germantown, said she was registered to vote and had valid ID - "a driver's license, passport, the works."
Price said registering voters in churches was "important because a lot of seniors come on Sunday that might not hear about it during the week."
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