On Tuesday, Pennsylvanians go to the polls for the primary election. The new voter ID law requires every voter to present photo identification as a condition for voting. The law will not be in effect for this month's primary, but it will be in place for November's general election.
The Patriot-News Editorial Board editorialized many times about our belief that this law will disenfranchise groups of people. But the law stands until it is overturned.
As Joseph Robinson Jr., head of the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Development Institute in Harrisburg, wrote in a recent op-ed: "So while the law is the law, unjust though it might be, we as a community must mobilize to ensure that voters permitted to vote in all prior elections now have the required proof to secure their photo ID and vote in all subsequent elections."
The first expectation is that the state do its job to inform the public of this law. Not only so that voters who don't have photo IDs will get them, but those who do have the required documents bring them to the voting site.
For most people who have a driver's license, student ID or are employed, this is not an issue. However, a segment of the population - often senior citizens - does not have photo IDs and the burden to obtain one can be immense.
We are not only talking about monetary costs. To obtain a photo ID from PennDOT, one of the requirements is to present a government ID document such as a passport or certified birth certificate with a raised seal. If one was born in the city and state they now live in, this is easy.
However, there are residents who relocated here from various parts of the country. For instance, someone born in Texas is not going to be able to walk down to their local vital records office and get a certified birth certificate copy.
There is a great deal of information online, but that is assuming everyone has Internet access and, in some cases, a printer to print out an application. Some states require a photo ID to obtain a certified copy while others require a notarized sworn statement.
This is now a national issue as other states also have passed voter ID legislation similar to Pennsylvania's. It might be a good cause for national sororities and fraternities to mobilize to help residents in their area or aid people from afar who need birth certificates from the states where they are going to school.
The idea would be similar to services in cities such as Washington, D.C., where someone in another state can hire individuals to assist them with the acquisition of visas from embassies and consulates.
College students tend to have more flexible schedules, and many Greek organizations have strong alumni networks and connections, not to mention traditions of community service. This needs to be a nationwide initiative. Helping individuals retain their ability to vote is a great service to our country.
Proponents of the voter ID law argued that these additional steps were necessary to protect our elections from fraud. But a bigger tragedy would be for a citizen of this country to come to the polls to vote and be denied that right.
Ensuring everyone has the opportunity to vote in November will take added effort from the state and civic groups.
- The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News
(Editor's note: Polling places throughout the state will conduct 'test runs' of the new law on April 24. Voters without i.d. are to be given instructional material to be prepared for the law's implementation on Nov. 6.)