Critics Say Amended Voter ID Bill Still Disenfranchises Poor, Minorities, Seniors
Yesterday, the State Senate Government Committee approved Pennsylvania’s Voter ID bill — which will require voters to show photo identification at the polls — by a 6-5 measure. The bill was amended to allow for a greater number of accepted IDs at the polls, but critics still argue the legislation is a back-door way for the Republican Party to disenfranchise voters.
While the House bill, passed in June, only allowed government-issued ID, the amended bill will give voters some leeway, permitting some expired government IDs, IDs issued by accredited Pennsylvania colleges and universities, and those issued by nursing and personal care homes. Critics say this bill, similar versions of which have been passed in a number of states, is a back-door way to stop some poor and minority Pennsylvanians from casting votes. “[B]ecause these laws also disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters in demographics that tend to support Democrats, they have become the darling of GOP lawmakers,” writes Think Progress.
However, the bill may have unintended consequences against a group the GOP may not want to disenfranchise: Senior citizens.
“Eighteen percent of older Americans do not have photo ID,” says Karen Buck, executive director of the Senior Law Center in Center City Philadelphia, “and the two exceptions and amendments made yesterday would not apply to many elder Pennsylvanians.”
Those amendments, says Buck, don’t take into account that many in the older population have not needed a driver’s license in several years (long past the one-year expiration in the bill) and other low-income seniors have perhaps never had a license.
The exception for care facility IDs may be moot, as well. “Not all facilities issue IDs,” Buck says. “And there are more seniors living on their own or in independent living facilities. And those are active voters. This bill will not protect their right to vote.”
Seniors willing to get new ID for this law may have a problem, as well. Obtaining an ID often requires other forms of identification, such as a Social Security card, Birth Certificate and proof of residency. Many residents in their 70s, 80s and 90s plain old don’t know where their Birth Certificate is.
“And there’s a whole sector of African American seniors who may have been born in the South who were never issued Birth Certificates,” says Buck.
Before midwifery was discouraged in the 1970s, it was common in places like South Carolina for children to have been born in the family home. This is having an effect on today’s older generation to produce ID the country over. In some cases, if a Birth Certificate was issued in the home, a midwife may have misspelled the names or left the spot incomplete if a name hadn’t been decided upon.
Buck says she brought many of these concerns to the state Legislature, but was met with apathy.
According to Pennsylvania GOP Housemember Daryl Metcalfe’s website, the Butler County Representative says Voter ID should be required because ID is required for other things.
“Currently in Pennsylvania, it is impossible to board a commercial airplane, cash a paycheck, operate a motor vehicle or even purchase a season pass to an amusement park without displaying valid photo ID. Guaranteeing the integrity of our state’s election process deserves no less than equal protection under the law,” he writes.
State Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, Senate State Government Committee Chairman says he’s seen no instances of people casting illegal ballots. But he had to push the bill through, he says, because he had to.
“It was put upon us and asked for by the governor and by the House, who passed the bill, and they asked me to take it up,” McIlhinney, R-Bucks, said after the committee vote. “I made the changes based upon what I felt I would accept to come out of the committee.”