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Cartoon of voters queued up to cast ballots
Cheryl Ann Moore took four hours out of her vacation last Thursday to stand in a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation line waiting to get a non-driver photo ID so she can vote in the November election. The Philadelphia custodian has been voting without an ID for 35 years. But a restrictive new law that passed the state legislature without a single Democratic vote won't let her or Pennsylvania's 8.3 million other voters do that anymore unless the state's supreme court overturns it.

Nobody knows for certain how many Pennsylvanians, including those who have voted for decades, have no state-approved IDs. Estimates run as high as 1.6 million and as low 100,000. Everyone agrees that people least likely to have them are low income, students and people of color, all of whom tend to vote heavily Democratic.

In fact, a Republican legislator, Mike Turzai, made headlines in June when he gleefully said the law would ensure Mitt Romney would win the state. Currently, President Obama leads Romney in the high single digits in the polls in Pennsylvania. The question is whether the ID law, which two-thirds of Pennsylvanians support, could turn away enough voters to change the election results.

Pennsylvania motorists already have one of the forms the new law requires, a driver's license from PennDOT with their photo on it. Some 7,500 state citizens without the required ID had obtained the non-driver's version from PennDOT by Sept. 11. Originally, the two PennDOT IDs were to be the only ones voters could use at polls to identify themselves. But, under pressure, that was expanded to include military IDs, passports and college student IDs with expiration dates on them. But of the 110 institutions of higher learning that have IDs, only 19 include expiration dates.

Backers of the law say getting the proper ID is no big deal. If taking half a vacation day, paying for a bus ride and spending $13.50 for the PennDOT document as Moore did is no big deal, then they're right. A retiree or someone who can ditch classes or take time off their job, catch a ride and hang out in line for several hours can definitely get over the hurdle the legislature has erected in their path to the voting booth. But should they have to? And what of those citizens for whom those options aren't readily available? How would that law have gone down if the legislature had chosen to make every Pennsylvanian cough up $13.50 and four hours of their time to get a special ID so they could vote in November?

Republican legislators, who clearly saw partisan advantage in the matter, felt perfectly safe in imposing an ID law that, in the frame of Attorney General Eric Holder, amounts to a poll tax, a law that disfavors the already disadvantaged.  

Moore stood in line the same day the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an appeal of a lower court ruling upholding voter-ID law. While the six justices listened to the plaintiffs and state's attorneys, Moore filled out one form, then another when it was discovered a clerk had given her the wrong form to start out with, had her photo taken, paid her fee and mostly just stood around waiting for her number to be called. An admirably motivated woman who is not willing to let the legislature take away her right to cast a ballot by making it harder for her to do so.

But how many other Pennsylvanians will make her choice? If the supreme court upholds the lower court decision approving the law, how many will be able to take off work or otherwise make time to get an ID? How many will simply choose to avoid the hassle and confusion that Republican legislators were intent on creating? As Moore said:

“I’m on vacation this week,” she said, “so I thought, ‘Let me just get this done now,’ because by the time we get to November, you won’t be able to get in this place.”
The governor and legislators who backed this law knew that when they imposed this law, which would have been even worse if they had had their way. The obstacle they have erected has names: undemocratic, unAmerican, unacceptable.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon Sep 17, 2012 at 11:40 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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