Thing is, not everyone can get one.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe says he’s doing it for the patriots among us.
“Countless American patriots have and continue to put their lives on the line around the world to preserve our freedoms, including the freedom to privately and confidently cast a vote at the ballot box,” the Butler County Republican writes on his website. This, he says, is why House Bill 934—the Pennsylvania Voter Identification Protection Act, which requires all Keystone State citizens to show ID at their respective polling places—needs to pass.
Doing so would end the practices of impersonation at the polls, fictitious registrations, double voting and voting by undocumented workers or others who are in the country illegally, says Metcalfe, who did not respond to requests for comment. “Currently in Pennsylvania, it’s impossible to board a commercial airplane, cash a paycheck, operate a motor vehicle or even purchase season passes to a neighborhood swimming pool…without displaying a valid photo ID,” he writes. So why should voting be any different?
Perhaps because there are those among us who don’t participate in such conveniences.
Local groups like Project H.O.M.E. say such requirements will make it harder for those they serve—the poor, elderly, minorities, immigrants—to get to the polls come Election Day.
Others maintain the entire premise of the bill—which could be voted on as early as this week—is a fear-mongering ploy that will cost Pennsylvania millions at a time when Harrisburg is watching every penny and social-welfare programs are being cut faster than a kid’s knee on the kickball blacktop.
According to Keesha Gaskins of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, who testified against HB 934, similar laws in other states have carried a hefty price tag. She says the bill could cost up to nearly $4 million in the first year of implementation. North Carolina, for example, is projected to spend $18 million to $25 million in ID production costs, media, advertising and typical bureaucratic sludge work during the first three years of implementation if a similar measure is passed.
The reason this costs so much is because in order to make the bill constitutional, the law can’t single any one group out—in this case, the poor. The solution: Free IDs for those who can’t afford the $13.50-$34.50, depending on the type of license. The Brennan Center’s survey data shows that 18 percent of the elderly currently don’t have ID, as well as 25 percent of voting-age blacks and 15 percent of voting-age citizens who earn less than $35,000 annually.
“Obtaining ID requires other documentation,” says Andy Hoover, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “And there are people who don’t have that initial documentation, especially a birth certificate. That could especially impact seniors born in other states.”
Tom Meyers, 54, who currently lives in St. Elizabeth’s, a Project H.O.M.E. veteran’s facility in North Philadelphia, is one such resident. He served in the military from 1977-1980 and says he’s had drug problems all his life. He says he was recently homeless, too, for three-and-a-half years, living under the Walnut Street Bridge. “You need two IDs [to get a government ID],” he says, “and that’s hard to get when you’re living on the street.” Even today, six years clean, Meyers couldn’t vote if this law passed.
Neither could Courtney Demuth, a 23-year-old Temple student who has run into a slew of problems getting a Pennsylvania ID since moving from Idaho. Demuth says she moved into an off-campus apartment with a roommate in Ardmore and has faced hurdle after hurdle to get a driver’s license. “In order to get a Pennsylvania state ID,” she says, “they ask for several requirements. I had no bills in my name, besides a cell phone bill, which I can’t use. I needed a utility bill or a lease, something like that.” When that didn’t work, she says the DMV asked her to bring her roommate for proof of residence—but he doesn’t have a state ID, either.
“As hard as it is for me to explain this to you,” says the 23-year-old, “it’s that much harder to actually figure it all out. I live here. I pay taxes. [Getting a license] shouldn’t be this difficult.”
Oh, and if you lose your wallet or have it stolen around Election Day, well, sorry.
What’s really troubling is that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to suggest that IDs would deter the problems Election Day does have. Gaskins of the Brennan Center told the Legislature that “there is little to no reliable evidence of impersonation fraud” at polls. Common Cause, a national political ethics organization with a Pennsylvania chapter, has also noted that the supposed problem of poll impersonation in Pennsylvania “essentially does not exist.” The most common voting irregularities nationwide, however, involve people with felony convictions attempting to vote (though this is not the case in Pennsylvania). James Browning, Common Cause’s Mid-Atlantic director for development, raised this issue in his testimony, saying, “This would not be addressed with an ID requirement, as of course IDs do not indicate if you have ever committed a crime.”
In addition to these flagrant flaws in the bill, members of Project H.O.M.E. see such legislation as a slap in the face to the work they and other social-welfare programs across the state are trying to accomplish. “The people we work with are in the process of rebuilding their lives and want to get ID, and we work toward that,” says Jennine Miller, associate director of education and advocacy at Project H.O.M.E.
Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of Project HOME, calls the bill “expensive, unnecessary and would disenfranchise citizens who have the right to vote,” in a letter drafted to Metcalfe and Rep. Babette Josephs, the minority chair of the House State Government Committee, who opposes the bill.
“We do both issue work and a get out the vote project,” Miller says. “[On Election Day], we had 40 volunteers driving people to polls. These are people living in the shelter system, in affordable housing programs, halfway houses. It’s hard enough to get them out and have their voice be heard without having to make sure they have a government-issued ID.”
With all the talk about the working poor and elderly being denied access to the polls due to the new voter-ID law, the homeless have been almost universally ignored in the debate.
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4