REPORTING FROM PHILADELPHIA -- Doris Clark has voted in elections ever since she was old enough to cast ballots. So when the Pennsylvania legislature enacted a new voter identification law, she sought to comply and get the new documentation in order to keep her track record intact.
It was not as easy as she thought.
“This is an absolutely discouraging experience,” said Clark, a 68-year-old Philadelphia resident who is suffering from the effects of two hip and two knee replacements. “The things they make you go through discourage people from voting.”
She described her journeys to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to ensure her eligibility to vote in November. “They told me that I needed a social security card. So I got one and, then, they told me I needed a birth certificate.”
She obtained a copy of her birth certificate that included her maiden name, Doris Bailey. They then asked her for a copy of her marriage certificate. “I explained to them that we had a house fire some years ago that destroyed a lot of our documents,” Clark said. “I told them that my husband had died, and they asked me for a copy of his death certificate.”
She wrote the state and obtained a copy of her husband’s death certificate only to be told by the state transportation office that it was insufficient for obtaining a new state identification document. “They told me that it wouldn’t do any good because my name wasn’t on the death certificate. The whole thing was extremely frustrating. I decided to just give up on voting.”
Clark’s experience is a reflection of why the voter ID law in Pennsylvania has been so highly controversial. Pennsylvania has become the new battleground in the high-stakes brawl over voting rights, with the courts now weighing in on the legality of new rules enacted by a Republican legislature.
The changes in the Pennsylvania laws have galvanized not just advocacy groups that are fighting against the laws but also Republicans who claim that they are simply trying to curb voter fraud.
Two months ago, during a hearing in Pennsylvania state court, political science experts testified that 1 million registered voters, or about 12.7 percent of the state’s registered voters, lacked valid identification to cast ballots under the new law. They said the changes in voter ID laws would lead to difficulty for African-American, Latino and elderly voters to get the new documents.
Rather than allowing people to continue to vote based on their existing registration, the new law requires that voters present a state identification document that includes an expiration date. Many voters, like Clark, say that obtaining the necessary documents to get the new ID involves costly requests for documents as well as multiple trips to the state transportation office, which administers the new documents. It is a burden, she said, for elderly people on fixed incomes.
In the end, Clark persevered and finally obtained her new state ID, but added that it took her nearly three months to get it.
“I decided I had to do whatever I needed to do,” she said. “I’m a very community-oriented woman. I’m the captain of my block association. I have voted in every election for as long as I can remember. I was determined to get my ID. But they sure didn’t make it easy.”
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(Photo: Edward Muse)