Activists on voter-ID ruling: Happy but still working

Posted: October 04, 2012

The Voter ID Coalition, a voter-access advocacy group, was about to begin its 10 a.m. meeting Tuesday at a union hall in Center City when a television reporter looked at her smartphone and said, "It's in."

For the last few months, the lawyers and activists had been working on quicksand as the state's ID rules evolved and the law volleyed between courtrooms. Those two words put them in limbo.

"Everybody started getting busy on the BlackBerrys," said coalition volunteer Bob Previdi. What followed was tentative optimism, quiet approbation and a new set of uncertainties.

Ten minutes later, Karen Buck of the Senior Law Center rose to explain the judge's decision and what it would mean for the coalition's work. Finally, it felt like solid ground.

"You will be asked for ID, but if you do not have it, you will still be able to vote on the machine," Buck said, emphasizing that volunteers should still encourage voters to get ID now. "The new message is: 'You won't need ID this time, but next time you will.' "

After a few minutes of jubilation and logistical questions, the group returned its focus to the future.

"It's easy for people to declare victory now," said Joe Certaine, a former city managing director who is leading the coalition. "The worst thing that could happen is people feel relaxed and complacent."

The activists - representing about 140 civic, legal, educational, community and religious institutions with very disparate goals - are now regrouping, updating their fliers and door hangers, rewriting their scripts, and freeing resources to look at other issues such as language interpreters and purging of voter rolls. But the primary focus will be turnout and disseminating information.

"We kind of anticipated that this law would be upheld," Certaine said.

Quipped one audience member: "Now we're trying to turn on a dime."

Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, vice president of the Committee of Seventy, added that the ruling changes nothing for people voting for the first time, or the first time in a new district - a previous law requiring them to show ID remains in effect.

Aissia Richardson, of the African American United Fund, said she started tweeting as soon as she heard the news. With information changing so quickly, she said, "I'm constantly putting the new stuff out on my Twitter feed."

Richardson is glad that the uncertainty seems to be over, but she urged people not to get complacent. "It's like Donald Rumsfeld said, there's a known-known, an unknown-known and an unknown-unknown," she said, referring to the former U.S. defense secretary discussing the complexity of planning for war.

William Gonzalez, executive director of the Latino activist group Ceiba, said the law might have been a "blessing in disguise."

"It brought a lot of people together that weren't that active before," he said, noting that his group helped more than 50 people get PennDot IDs last weekend. "They didn't have them before, now they can use them for other stuff too."

Contact Jessica Parks at 215-854-4851 or

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