Former Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff, seated in the audience at Mondayâs roundtable on Pennsylvaniaâs new voter ID law, reads from a prepared statement opposing the legislation. (Chronicle photo by Lee Chottiner)
Rabbi Ronald BB Symons displays his own driverâs license while delivering the invocation at Mondays forum on Pennsylvaniaâs new voter ID law. (Photo by Lauren Kart)
Under the law, the 89-year-old Bucks County resident, like all Pennsylvania voters, must show an acceptable photo ID at the polls to vote in the November election.
Having never driven, Block asked for a nondriver photo ID from PennDOT, but agency officials wouldnât issue one because her maiden name on her birth certificate and social security card didnât match her married name on her voter registration.
The only proof of marriage she could present? Her ketuba.
It wasnât enough.
âThe Department of Motor Vehicles clerks could not understand the ketuba and refused to accept it as proof of a name change,â said Arlene Levy, a past co-president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania.
Block, who eventually got a temporary voter ID with help from her state senator, is one of an estimated 750,000 eligible Pennsylvania voters who could be disenfranchised this fall because of the new law, according to the Department of State.
So much so that the U.S. Department of Justiceâs Civil Rights Division announced this week it is investigating the law to determine if it discriminates against minorities.
Levy recounted Blockâs story, and that of several other at-risk voters, Monday during a public forum at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill. She joined a panel, which included State Rep. Dan Frankel, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Executive Director Barb Feige of the American Civil Liberties Union of Greater Pittsburgh, county Elections Manager Mark Wolosik and former Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff.
Attorney Mark Frank, who moderated the program, said the Pennsylvania Department of State was invited to participate, but it declined.
The Pittsburgh Jewish Social Justice Roundtable hosted the program, as a means to educate voters on the new law. The ACLU, National Council of Jewish Women, League of Women Voters and Disability Voting Coalition of Pennsylvania all manned information tables throughout the evening.
But panelists also made it clear they oppose the law, seeing it as an effort to suppress voter turnout among elderly, young, disabled and lower income voters who trend Democrat in elections. They cited the party line vote on which the law passed the legislature and a recent statement by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai that it will âallow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania â" done.â
Fitzgerald, who said the county must shoulder an unfunded mandate to train its 6,500 election workers in the new law, dismissed GOP claims that the law would fight voter fraud, arguing that itâs already extremely difficult for someone to impersonate a registered voter at the polls.
âYouâre not going Downtown; youâre not going to Harrisburg or some mysterious place. Youâre going to see your neighbors,â he said. âThey know who you are.â
He predicted âabsolute chaosâ at the polls if the courts do not overturn the law. A suit brought by the ACLU was to be heard Wednesday in Commonwealth Court, Harrisburg.
âYou may have done everything right, but the 10 people in front of you may not,â Fitzgerald said. âYou may have done everything right and get tied up in that line. Thatâs their strategy.â
The ACLU passed out âKnow Your Voting Rightsâ cards at the start of the program, which bullets the types of acceptable photo ID under the new law.
Those types include a Pennsylvania driverâs license, PennDOT nondriver photo ID, U.S. passports, U.S. government issued photo ID, U.S. Military or Pennsylvania National Guard photo ID, Pennsylvania municipality-issued photo ID, accredited Pennsylvania college- or university-issued photo ID and nursing and personal care facility ID.
But many Pennsylvanians donât have acceptable ID, and getting it often requires a birth certificate, which comes with a fee. Many opponents equate that to a poll tax.
The law is still being tweaked, Feige said. She described the legislation as âa moving target.â
The State Department has said it will issue voter-only ID, but only after residents have exhausted all other options Feige said.
In fact, Frankel has introduced a package of bills, called the âEvery Voter Countsâ package, which would require the Department of State to create a mobile voter outreach program to educate Pennsylvanians about the new voter ID law, waive the fees for a birth certificate if a person needs one to obtain state-issued photo ID, and create an online voter registration system. Â
âWe ought to be doing a lot more if weâre going to do this right,â he said.
About 300 people attended the forum, according to Deborah Fidel, executive director of the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee and a convener of the Roundtable.
In delivering the forumâs invocation, Rabbi Ronald B.B. Symons of Temple Sinai whipped out his driverâs license and showed it to the near capacity crowd, which also included supporters of the ID law.
âI know who I am because I have one of these,â he said. âIf I donât hold on to that, I wonât get to vote.â Â
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)