Who doesn't have valid photo ID, anyway?
As noted in our editorial "The Wrong Kind," this year a dozen or so Republican-controlled state governments have discovered a reason to favor the expansion of government regulation: new laws requiring voters to present certain kinds of ID at the polls. The stated reason for these laws is to combat voter fraud -- a virtually nonexistent problem. That the regulations will suppress turnout among likely Democratic voters is the unstated reason. (Well, the usually unstated reason -- a few conservative supporters have been very upfront about their motives.)A popular response to complaints about these laws is the claim that they won't disenfranchise significant numbers of legitimate voters. After all, who doesn't have photo ID? "I challange anyone to find me one person who is legal and unable to vote," wrote one commenter on our editorial. "Where ARE these people? I read a lot and listen to a lot of talk radio, and I have yet to encounter anyone who is legal and can't vote. These people simply do not exist."A story by Sarah Hofius Hall in the Scranton Times-Tribune (my hometown paper) identifies one group of legal and (newly) unable to vote real people: retired Catholic sisters. A new law in Pennsylvania "requires anyone voting this November to produce a photo ID with an expiration date." And yes, people do lead fulfilling lives without such ID on hand, whether or not they come up much on talk radio. One IHM sister had to wait two hours at the DMV because "her non-driver's license photo ID, which she used for air travel, had long-expired" -- and therefore, suddenly, it wasn't enough to get her in to the polls in the lobby of the building where she lives. Other sisters, like many elderly people, are lacking the documentation they would need to get an ID.The sisters know that in some ways they are fortunate: unlike many elderly people, they live in a community that can advocate for them, drive them to the DMV, help them track down the necessary paperwork. So they're speaking up for others affected by the new law:
The congregation's peace and justice committee has sent a letter to Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson and the state's Supreme Court justices, asking them to overturn the law.The sisters represent "thousands and thousands of elder Pennsylvanians facing a similar exclusion from their lifelong participation in the democratic process. If the Voting Act of 2012 is maintained in the courts, the seniors will have a serious violation of their rights visited upon them. It must not be allowed to stand," the sisters wrote.
These sisters are just a few of the non-hypothetical people whose votes were valid in the last election and, unless the law is overturned, won't be valid this year. If there's a valid reason for turning them away from the polls -- aside from helping Gov. Romney win the state of Pennsylvania -- I haven't heard it yet.
About the Author
Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.