Sometimes, if you fight very, very hard against injustice, you win.
That’s what happened in Pennsylvania last week, where a court struck down the state’s voter ID law.
As the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia described in its complaint and the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania acknowledged in its opinion, the evidence of disenfranchisement is vast and the stories are compelling. The court found that “approximately 430,000 electors remain without compliant ID.” That’s 4 percent of eligible Pennsylvania voters! Just think of the number of elections that turn on margins much, much slimmer than that.
As you probably know, AARP has fought hard against voter ID laws, supporting litigation in many states. That’s because these laws tend to make voting more difficult for older people. They might have difficulty getting birth certificates if they were born outside of a hospital (a practice common up until two generations ago), or getting to a faraway office to get a copy of required documents. They may no longer hold a driver’s license or other acceptable forms of identification (like student IDs).
The complaint’s explanation of the problem is vivid in its description of the human beings affected: “The Photo ID Law erects such a burden that they are likely to lose their votes. People like Joyce Block, who has voted in nearly every election for 70 years but to whom the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (‘PennDOT’) refused to issue a photo ID because the only documentation of the change from her birth name to the married name on her voter registration is a marriage certificate in Hebrew, which they could not decipher; people like Bea Bookler, who also has voted regularly for nearly 70 years and who still takes great pride in using her walker to vote at the polling station next door but who is too frail to journey to the PennDOT Drivers’ License Center to obtain valid photo ID . . .”
And then there’s the lead plaintiff, 93-year-old Vivienne Applewhite, a great-great-grandmother who marched with Martin Luther King. Her purse, containing important identification documents, was stolen years ago, and for a long time, she could not obtain a voter ID without them. I wrote about Applewhite and her courage a few months back; we can only imagine that she’s celebrating this week, as we celebrate the birth of a great civil rights leader who fought for equal rights – including equal voting rights – for all.
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