Protect the Right to Vote

Pennsylvania House Bill 934: A Heavy-handed Solution to a Nonexistent Problem A little over a year ago, on a cloudy Tuesday morning in November, I walked a few blocks down the street from my apartment to my local polling place in West Philadelphia to vote in the 2010 elections.  I walked up to the election judges’ table and provided my name.  Anxious to get into the booth and get on my way to work, I awaited as they thumbed through their book of names and signatures to my name.  I saw them arrive at my page and prepared to affix my signature.  Then, to my surprise, one of the judges asked a question that I had not anticipated: “Do you have a photo ID?” I did; in fact, I had my Pennsylvania driver’s license, my voter registration card, my student ID, and my employee ID, all of which I knew from the Committee of Seventy’s voter rights guide were among the legal forms of identification for the purpose of voting in Pennsylvania.  Still, I had no intention of presenting any of them.  This was my second time voting at this polling place, and I knew that voters in the state are only required to furnish identification upon voting for the first time at a polling place.  I calmly reminded the election judge of the law, stood my ground, and was permitted to vote without incident.  While I was glad to be able to cast my ballot, I worried that the next voter to arrive without ID might not have been as well-versed in the law as I had been and would be at risk to be improperly turned away. The experience described above, is a troubling sign of what might happen if the proponents of PA HB 934 get their way.  The bill has passed the House and presently awaits a vote in the Senate.  The law, as presently written, would require all voters to produce a photo identification issued by the U.S. government, by the commonwealth, by an accredited Pennsylvania institution of higher learning, or by a Pennsylvania long-term care facility each and every time they vote.  In an article (free, registration required) recently published in the Legal Intelligencer, Karen Buck of the SeniorLAW Center highlights a number of reasons why this policy is costly, misguided, and likely to disproportionately hinder the rights of our state’s most vulnerable citizens.  As she notes, not only does obtaining a state ID cost money that low-income voters might not have, but it requires two proofs of residency, a Social Security card, and a current passport or birth certificate with a raised seal, to say nothing of the additional hurdles for those whose names have changed. For some of the older adults that CARIE and our partners in the aging community work with, the onerous requirements of obtaining a photo ID could effectively disenfranchise them.  Obtaining a birth certificate may prove next to impossible for older adults from marginalized populations who never received a birth certificate or may need to obtain one from another state.  Beyond that, long-term care facilities typically do not issue photo IDs to their residents, voters without IDs and limited mobility may not be able to access transportation to a local DMV.  As Buck notes, tying the right to vote to the purchase of a photo ID reduces the franchise to a commodity only accessible to those of certain means, analogous to a “poll tax” and other thinly veiled attempts to limit the voting rights of low-income and minority voters.  With multiple studies showing little-to-no voter fraud at polling places nationwide and opposition to the bill from a bipartisan committee of Pennsylvania county commissioners who oversee elections, the effort behind HB 934 is perplexing to say the least. In Pennsylvania and throughout the country, participation rates of eligible voters are pitiable compared to other countries with democratically elected governments.  Creating additional hindrances to exercising one’s right to vote in order to address a problem that is essentially nonexistent will certainly not change that.  The requirements of this bill will disproportionately harm voters whose voices need to be heard in our political process. Written by Paul Vande Stouwe, CARIE MSW Intern

CARIE Elderly Advocates logo footer


Your support helps us make a bigger difference in people's lives. Every donation you make is a gift of a better life for elders.