By Patricia A. Coulter
As the voter-ID law makes its way through the court system and dominates the headlines, I wonder how many eligible voters do have the proper identification but are not registered to vote. Then I think about all of the registered voters with the required identification who do not bother to go to the polls. Who is electing our government?
We have a presidential election coming in November, so interest in voting in running high. But, as National Urban League president Marc Morial reminds us in this year's "State of Black America" report, we need to occupy the vote.
Occupying the vote means voting for our city council people, state legislators, and governor. It means voting in the primaries when we choose our candidates for office.
The presidency of the United States is the most important elected office in our country, so people are willing to stand in line and cast a ballot. But it was our state legislators who cut the School District of Philadelphia's funding to the bone, eliminated general assistance for thousands of needy citizens, and passed the voter-ID law that could disenfranchise as many as 18 percent of registered Philadelphia voters. How many of us voted in that election?
It is City Council and Mayor Nutter who set our property, local sales, and business taxes, and who determine whether we have playgrounds and trash pickup in our neighborhoods.
If we are going to occupy the vote, we have to register and vote in every election, not just the presidential election. "All politics is local" is a cliché - and a truism. Our local and state elected officials have the most impact on our daily lives. We must choose them wisely, or we suffer the consequences.
Pennsylvania has one of the lowest levels of voter registration in the nation, hampered by a registration deadline 30 days before the election. Oct. 9 is this year's deadline. So, while citizens have until Election Day to obtain state-issued identification, they have less than a month to register.
At the Urban League, we are presenting voter registration information to the job seekers at our career center and to the clients seeking relief from foreclosure in our housing counseling division. We have voter registration forms available in our reception area. As the election nears, we will be working with the National Urban League to set up phone banks to reach out to Philadelphians and help them register. Anyone can call us at 215-985-3220, and our staff will be happy to walk them through the registration process, send them a form, or clarify the new voter-ID regulations.
We must occupy the vote this year and every year. If we do not register and vote, we allow others to choose the officials who create the laws that control our lives. Here in Philadelphia, we have seen the damage this can do. Let us all register, vote, and reclaim our government.