A level of justice was served to thousands of voters in Pennsylvania recently. While more “free speech” rights are being served to corporations and others who seek to influence our elections, we continue to see bare-faced attacks on one of our cherished rights here in America – the right to vote. However, at least for this election cycle, the voters of Pennsylvania will not have to worry about having in their possession a piece of plastic to prove who they are so they can vote.
Though polls claim the majority of Americans support Voter ID laws, liberty and freedom from discriminatory laws should not be contingent on what a majority of people want. Tough voter ID requirements, largely pushed by Republicans, are nothing more than a form of voter disenfranchisement, comparable to a literacy test or poll tax — it places a barrier between the voter and his/her right to cast a vote.
I can say this with great confidence after spending the past five weeks in Pennsylvania attempting to understand the process to obtain an ID and helping individuals get IDs. To make this argument I will share one specific story:
Benny is an African-American man in his 50s who lives by himself. He has never really had a need for an ID. I met him on his first visit to the DMV — his first unsuccessful visit to obtain the free ID that the state of Pennsylvania claims is not difficult to get. On another visit, he was given an address verification form — a form that is supposed to be given to individuals who have no form of mail or documents to prove their residence — despite the fact that he brought in the required two pieces of mail.
He was incorrectly told to have someone at his residence fill it out and sign it, along with bringing two pieces of that individual’s mail. Upon telling the DMV employee that he lives alone, he was told, “That is what you need to do.” Benny later received a letter with an identification number that the state of Pennsylvania claiming in court that if an individual received said letter, “all they need to do is bring that letter and they will be issued an ID.” Benny brought this letter and two proofs of address on his third visit to the DMV. This time he was told to come back in two weeks with no explanation as to why, countering the state’s court testimony that an individual will get an ID if they bring in the letter. It wasn’t until I accompanied Benny to the same DMV, on the very same day he was told to come back in two weeks, that he received his ID. There are many other stories similar to his.
If this was not a form of voter suppression then I don’t know what is. This is why a level of justice was served in Pennsylvania. Voters were going to be suppressed because of this undue difficulty preventing thousands of American citizens from obtaining a piece of plastic to prove who they are. The Voter ID laws implemented across the nation are a reminder that we need uniform federal laws to assure that individual rights are not threatened by politically motivated parties.
Dylan Bellisle is a resident of Forest Park.