Democrats, leaders in minority communities and advocates for the poor and elderly were outraged -- or at least concerned -- that the rights of thousands of voters could be taken away by the state's new Voter ID Law.
Alan Jennings, executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, said the law is “clearly a deliberate effort to disempower certain voters on behalf of other voters.”
Republicans, on the other hand, were delighted that Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson of Nazareth .
“I think it provides a protection of the franchise, and it is certainly a law that does not provide an undue burden on average folks who have to provide identification for many aspects of their lives every day, whether they're going to the doctor or picking up a prescription at the pharmacy or proving who they are when they present their credit cards,” said Wayne Woodman, chairman of the Lehigh County Republican Committee.
“These are things that are done multiple times a day by virtually everyone."
Opponents of the law are planning to appeal to the state Supreme Court or else girding to help perhaps thousands of people without photo ID cards to get them in time for the general election on November 6.
The League of Women Voters has offered to provide information sheets on the new law to clients of , according to JoAnn Nenow, the executive director of the organization that provides nutrition to elderly shut-ins.
It is unclear at this point how the law might affect her clients, many of whom no longer carry a valid driver’s license, but might get out to the polls for Election Day. Will the new law affect whether they can get absentee ballots? Nenow asked.
“Just getting a copy of any documents they might need is going to be very difficult for them, unless they have a printer at home that can make copies,” Nenow said.
“The League is discouraged but undaunted,” said Olivia Thorne, President of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. “It’s a sad day for citizens when political rhetoric wins over democracy. We will continue to work to educate voters about voter identification requirements and help people get a photo ID while we await the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision.”
The League says that as many as 1.2 million eligible voters could be disenfranchised by the legislation.
“In 2012, it is unbelievable that they think they can continue to suppress people from having the right to vote,” said Esther Lee, president of the Bethlehem NAACP and the former chairwoman of the city’s Republican Party.
“This is clearly a political conclusion,” Lee said of Simpson’s decision.
“I think it’s terrible. I think it’s purely political,” she said. “Voter suppression is what it’s all about.”
CACLV’s Jennings agreed, citing Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai’s in which Turzai said: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania – done.”
“This is a blantant effort as sinister as it is cynical to take away the most fundamental right we have as Americans,” Jennings said. “Unless the judge doesn’t understand the day-to-day travails of average people, it’s unimaginable that he could have come to that decision.”
The Bethlehem NAACP has prepared an information flier to inform people on what they need to obtain a photo ID, which she plans to widely distribute. Lee has put her own telephone number on the flier to provide assistance to those who need it.
Northampton County Democratic Chairman Walt Garvin said his organization is making a similar effort.
It has obtained a database from the Department of State, listing all 18,000 registered voters who currently do not have a valid driver’s license. The plan is to reach out to them to inform them of what they will need to do to vote in November, said Garvin, who lives in Bethlehem Township.
Garvin said one of the less talked about consequences of the new law will be the length of time voters will have to wait at the polls.
“Even if every voter who currently does not have the required PA photo ID manages to get one, which they won't, the request and verification of these IDs at the polls will add 30 seconds to one-and-one-half minutes to each voter transaction,” said Garvin, who is also the former chairman of the Northampton County Election Board.
“It was not uncommon to have lines two and three hours long during the past three presidential election cycles. The practical impact of this legislation will double and triple those times. Many voters may simply walk away on Election Day,” he said.
“Shame on the Republicans in Harrisburg for this despicable attempt to frustrate the Pennsylvania electorate.”