Annette John-Hall: Voter ID bill: Shades of modern-day poll tax

Is it just me or does Pennsylvania House Bill 934, the voter-suppression, I mean, voter-identification law, feel oppressively like a modern-day poll tax?

Today, the House is expected to pass the bill, which would require that every voter produce a government-issued photo identification at the polls. Gov. Corbett can't wait to sign it - just in time for the November election.

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Brittany Edmonds of West Philadelphia had to deal with a change-of-address card. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)

Hmmm. A law supposedly written to safeguard against unproven voter fraud smells like obstructionist trickery to me.

It wasn't that long ago that African Americans were subjected to a series of voter-suppression tactics that prevented them from even registering in the Jim Crow South. Included were straight-up intimidation, literacy tests, and a "poll tax" imposed on any voter who dare try and cast a ballot.

Disenfranchised and defeated, black citizens were stopped before they could even start.

Which is the effect I fear that a voter ID law will have on the state's poor, minority, and senior voters.

Most of whom live right here in Philadelphia.

 

One more hurdle

How hard could it be? Just go down to the Department of Transportation and get an identification card. After all, the state will provide one free if you can't afford one.

Well, the prospect is daunting for poor residents without driver's licenses or passports who are used to operating on the fringe: whose lives consist of check-cashing places and SEPTA tokens, of money orders and cash-only economies, where a photo ID isn't asked for and required.

For people with mobility issues, just getting to the Department of Transportation means one more hurdle they must clear.

"Folks who don't have an ID may not take the time and effort to get a government-issued one," says Ken Smukler of InfoVoter Technology, operator of the largest voter hotline in the nation. "So it has the effect of suppressing turnout of African Americans and Latinos, which is an overlay for Obama super voters."

Ding ding ding! Professor, I know the answer.

Think about it. Why, in a shaky economy, would Gov. Corbett be willing to shell out up to $4 million to enforce an unnecessary law supposedly designed to thwart voter-impersonation fraud - of which there is virtually none?

Not only that, it's no surprise that Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Mississippi - the states that passed the strictest laws since President Obama's election - are mostly red to the core.

Please. This isn't about policy. It's about politics. So much for small government.

 

New can of worms

State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown (D., Phila.) has fought against HB 934 since Daryl D. Metcalfe (R., Butler), known as the Assembly's staunchest conservative, introduced it last year.

Now that the legislation is close to passing, Brown is focusing on educating the constituents of West Philly's 190th District, which ranks among the top five poorest districts in the state.

The law opens a whole new can of worms, she says.

Because the economy has forced many to move from place to place, Brown worries that even if her constituents do get ID cards, "the addresses won't match the addresses on the voting roles, and they won't be able to vote."

Like 22-year-old Brittany Edmonds, a constituent who recently moved from her own place back to her mother's home. Edmonds' ID card lists her old address; Brown showed her how to fill out a change of address card.

(Edmonds sent in her change of address card in January. She told me last week that she hadn't received it yet.)

Metcalfe insists that you can't "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."

But it's a false comparison. Voting isn't some amusement-park dalliance done during spring break. It's a inalienable right that too many determined, disenfranchised citizens suffered and died for.

Sadly, they're the same kind of citizens that HB 934 seeks to suppress.

 


Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986, Ajohnhall@phillynews.com or on Twitter @Annettejh.