|Madeline Rawley, here with husband Bob, took it upon
herself to learn the details of voter ID – only to be rebuffed
at every step by the state government.
After Secretary Carol Aichele expressed her confidence in Pennsylvania’s new voter ID requirements, a series of witnesses took the stand to share the difficulties they have experienced as a result of the law. First up was Lisa Gray of Chadds Ford, a voter since 1976 who was born in Germany to a father in military service. Ms. Gray suffers a psychological disability and as a result can neither work nor drive. She collects public benefits, and shared a residence with her mother – also her primary source of transportation – until her mother’s recent death. Ms. Gray has neither a valid birth certificate, nor a social security card. Because she was born overseas, she must obtain a consular birth certificate through the US State Department, a process that will take months and cost her at least $50. Even if she had the proper documentation, with the recent death of her mother she doesn’t know how she would get to PennDOT to obtain ID. She has access to Paratransit, but only for medical emergencies.
Asked why she thinks voting is important, Ms. Gray said it’s “her chance to influence things that effect her as a citizen, and to make her voice heard.” Asked by attorney Marian Schneider of the Advancement Project about voter ID, Ms. Gray called it an attempt to suppress the vote. “I am qualified and entitled, and other people have problems like me. We’re being prevented from voting by clerical stumbling blocks.”
If anyone can testify to clerical stumbling blocks, it’s Madeline Rawley of Doylestown. A seven-year member of the League of Women Voters, Rawley took it upon herself to help her fellow seniors obtain the ID they need, and embarked on a months-long quest to find clear information about the state’s new requirements. Rawley says voting is especially important to her, and that her mother – born in the era before American women could vote – worked as a Girl Scout on the women’s suffrage movement, encouraging women to fight for their right. Rawley testified at length about the series of calls and visits she paid to the Department of State and to PennDOT, attempting to learn everything she could about the new state requirements. What she found was scattered, incomplete, and inconsistent. At one point, after a PA Department of State employee told her final information would not be available until late summer, she stated her concern about the short amount of time available for people to obtain their documentation. “That’s not my fault,” the official told her.
Rawley said that the League of Women Voters is eager to educate voters about what they need to cast their ballots – but they still can’t get the proper information from the state. “Things just keep changing,” she said.
Steve Jarrell of Chambersburg gave similar testimony. A four-year veteran of the US Air Force, Jarrell visited his local PennDOT office in July on a “dry run,” to check their preparedness for questions about voter ID. Jarrell found no posters or literature available, aside from two photocopied sheets of paper tucked into a brochure rack. After waiting in line for 45 minutes after opening hours (despite arriving well before the office opened) he spoke with a PennDOT employee who told him, incorrectly, that free IDs were only available for people who had moved to Pennsylvania from out-of-state.
At least Jarrell got to speak with a PennDOT employee. Janice Horn, a librarian from Clarion County, visited her local PennDOT office only to learn that they had outsourced their ID process. Though the office was open five days a week, a PennDOT employee was on site only on Wednesdays. Asked for voter ID information, the contractor on site told her it was “not her responsibility” to provide that information, and advised her to come back on Wednesday. She did provide some information on paper, but only with a cautionary disclaimer that it wasn’t really accurate.
John Jordan, Director of Civic Engagement for the Pennsylvania NAACP, spoke to the impact of voter ID on his organization. While the NAACP is a leader in voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns, Jordan testified that he is way behind on those efforts. Instead, his organization has been spending “30 to 50 hours a week” responding to the deluge of requests for voter ID information. “Theres a lot of confusion,” Jordan testified, “owing to constant changes to the rules by the state.” He said the NAACP has been forced to revise their voter ID literature five or six times, and that he still finds outdated information in circulation. For this reason, he believes, the introduction of a new ID form – yet another rule change by state authorities – will only create more confusion. Despite their investment in outreach and education, he testified that he is “not confident at all” that they can reach every registered voter before the November election.
What came through in the testimony of every witness was that, while this new law may be terrible at preventing fraud or protecting the rights of eligible voters, it is terrific at the thing it is designed for: suppressing votes. Jarrell, who has been a case worker for the Department of Public Welfare, remarked about the potential of using EBT (“food stamp”) cards as valid ID. “It absolutely could be done,” he said, and remarked on 2011 efforts by legislators to add photos to EBT cards to prevent fraud. When SEIU suggested photos on EBT cards so they could serve as voter ID, he says, those same legislators were opposed, citing “cost factors.”
Jarrell says he’s opposed to Pennsylvania’s ID law, and he doesn’t mince words. “It takes away your God-given right to vote as a citizen in this country.” Jordan, meanwhile, bemoans the effect it’s having on callers to his office. “Our education efforts are supposed to focus on issues and candidates, not on ID requirements,” he said on the stand. “But there’s a lot of anger, a lot of anguish. People are registering because they’re angry. They feel like they’re being personally attacked.”
Related: Voter ID Day 5: “There is no document.”