PITTSBURGH - Labor unions that have been helping the residents of this state get the photo IDs they must now have in order to vote have piles of evidence they say prove the law cannot be implemented without blocking the votes of as many as 750,000 people.
Republicans in Pennsylvania have rammed through what many say is the strictest voter ID law in the country, one that voting rights activists say cuts 750,000 voters off the roles.
The Pennsylvania law mirrors ones passed by GOP lawmakers in many states this year, in an attempt to make it easier for Republicans to get elected. Those most likely to not have the required forms of identification are overwhelmingly students, minorities, the elderly and the poor - groups Republicans fear will vote for Democrats.
Lawyers with the United Steelworkers and the Service Employees International Union, at a press conference today, described in detail reports that union teams operating for weeks now at the Department of Transportaion (PennDOT) have compiled.
Among the thousands of voters piling in to the DOT offices to get their IDs, said Nicole Burner, an SEIU attorney, "the majority are either ill, elderly, poor or very young. SEIU has had teams of from 3 to 20 people fanning out to the motor vehicle centers.
Burner described how one voter, Jimmy Thomas of Pittsburgh, fell ill during the process. Thomas, who suffers from congestive heart failure, skipped his medication in the morning because it causes pressure on his bladder and he knew, in advance, that the process would take four or more hours.
"How awful that an 80 year-old woman who had voted all her life had to leave her nursing home," said Burner. "She became sick waiting in line because, out of embarrassment, she skipped breakfast in the morning. She did not want people at the DOT to see the colostomy bag she is required to wear."
Ashindi Maxton, SEIU Director of Political Partnerships, talked in detail about the experiences of a voter she tried to help. Maxton had picked up an 80-year-old woman at 9:30 a.m. who she said did not get home until 1:30 p.m.
When the woman finished an hour wait to see a clerk she was told she needed a birth certificate. The voter, an African American, explained that she had been born in a segregated hospital that kept no records of African American births and that she had been told many times in the past that the state has no records of her birth.
The clerk sent the woman to another building, the Health Department, where he said she could get help regarding the birth certificate. Luckily the woman met Ashindi outside the DOT building, who explained that the Secretary of State's office has told the courts that birth certificates were not required in order to get the ID.
After three hours the two were able to see a supervisor who completed the process.
"The point is, the state has told the Supreme Court that it was going to make it easy for everyone to get a free photo ID. This has plainly not happened and we are four weeks into the process," said Ashindi. "Only 10,000 out of the 750.000 disenfranchised voters have so far gotten the IDs. There is a disconnect between the Republican lawmakers who made this law and what is happening on the ground," said Ashindi.
The unions are getting ready for what they hope will be the last, but successful court battle. "We will be taking this evidence to the Commonwealth Court" said Burner. "It is clear that the state cannot satisfy the Supreme Court that this can be implemented fairly. What is the rush? It usually takes two full election cycles for changes in the voting process to be implemented. It cannot be done between now and Election Day."