TO THOSE who think it's no big deal to require a photo ID to vote in Pennsylvania, meet Wilola Lee, 59; Gloria Cuttino, 64, and Nadine Marsh, 84, who all have voted regularly for decades. Each has been told by her native state — Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia, respectively — that there is no record of her birth. As a result, they can't get the birth certificates required to get the photo IDs now required to continue voting.
If the new Pennsylvania voter ID law is allowed to take effect at the November election, these women won't be able to vote. They and seven other Pennsylvania voters are the named plaintiffs in the suit filed against the law six weeks ago.
And then there's New York native Joyce Block, 89, of Bucks County, who does possess the necessary birth certificate and a Social Security card — but in her maiden name. The only record she has of her marriage to Carl Block nearly 70 years ago is in Hebrew, which wasn't enough to get her a voter ID until her state senator intervened.
State officials continue to downplay the difficulty the new voter-ID law poses for tens of thousands of Pennsylvania voters to continue to exercise their right to vote, although the commonwealth already has scaled back some provisions of the law to "simplify" it. For example, Pennsylvania natives who don't possess their original birth certificates no longer have to go through the process of getting official copies, which could take up to 14 weeks. Instead, they can get themselves to an office of the Department of Motor Vehicles, provide some documentation (including a Social Security card) and the commonwealth will look up the certificate, which takes about 10 days. (As for the people born in another state, they are out of luck.)
Unfortunately, when it comes to the practical results of the law, its supporters are in a "heads I win, tails you lose" situation and its opponents face a Catch-22: As each new plan to make it "easier" to navigate the process is announced, it leaves the impression that getting the proper ID is such an ordeal that it may discourage many voters from even trying. Those making the case against the law run the risk of confirming that impression.
This can't be allowed to happen. For most people, getting the proper ID does take a bit of effort, but it is manageable and there is help. And the time to start is now. The Committee of Seventy is leading a nonpartisan coalition of more than 80 organizations working to help Pennsylvanians obtain the proper voter ID. Check its website (seventy.org) for information or call 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) for help and for information about how to get involved.