Annette John-Hall: Creating a new way to fight voter suppression

Faye Anderson has advocated relentlessly for voters’ rights for over 20 years. She’s a founding member of Election Protection, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter-protection group, and a member of the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition. In 2001, PBS aired Counting on Democracy, a documentary Anderson co-produced that examined Florida’s voting fiasco during the 2000 presidential election.

And now, outraged by the possibility of another stolen election with controversial Voter ID laws like Pennsylvania’s spreading like wildfire, she is trying to ratchet up her activism in a big way.

Faye Anderson hopes her web-based Cost of Freedom app can help Pennsylvania voters get the information they need. (Annette John-Hall / Staff)

Anderson is developing a web-based Cost of Freedom app, a one-stop site for voter ID information in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Cost of Freedom not only will give voters the information they need to cast their ballots, but will show them how to get it.

My fear, like Anderson’s, is that people don’t yet get it that their right to vote is under assault. If you don’t know by now, it’s not your fault because the new Pennsylvania voting law isn’t meant to make life easier. The rules seems to change faster than you can say "birth certificate," which, by the way, you no longer need to get an ID. Now you just need for the state to certify that you exist, which they say they can do in 10 days. Good luck with that. It’l take you that long to figure out what you need to do to get their stamp of legitimacy.

Here’s the short version of where the rules stand now. You’ll need to show a driver’s license, a state photo ID, unexpired passport, state employee photo ID, military ID or a current student ID. No more showing up at the neighborhood voting booth like you’ve done for the past 50 years without proof you are who you are. If you’re getting an ID or license for the first time — you’ll need a Social Security card plus two proofs of residency, like utility bills. Have you lost track yet of how many lines you’ll be standing in, how many hours you need to set aside and how bus tokens will be required to navigate the maze?

And ladies, he may have put a ring on it, but if your married name doesn’t match the name on your ID, you’ll be turned away at the voting booth, too.

While it’s clear to me that these laws are all about keeping core President Obama supporters home — especially minorities and students — there should be a a bipartisan uprising. Plenty of seniors are likely to get caught in the web of suppression. Everybody needs a way to sort it all out.

Gov. Corbett — whose approval ratings are slipping as we speak — claims he’s trying to ward off voter fraud, but given the fact that you’re more likely to spot a UFO then somebody trying to impersonate you at the polls, this law has the stench of voter suppression all over it. And lawsuits.

Anderson isn’t taking any chances with the election less than seven months away and is pushing ahead with her Cost of Freedom app. But, as she has learned the hard way, "the cost of freedom isn’t free."


Too close to home

Last December, Anderson, an attorney turned public policy and social-media consultant, pitched the idea for her app at the Random Hacks of Kindness Hackathon at Drexel, a gathering of innovators who build technology for social good.

She figured she had to something, because this whole voter ID thing had hit too close to home.

Though she’s lived in Philly for three years, Anderson’s a non-driving, native New Yorker who takes the $1 Bolt bus to her old stomping grounds in Brooklyn as much as she can.

"I never got a Pennsylvania ID because I still have three years left until my New York one expires," Anderson explains. "So here I am, a Stanford lawyer and a founding member of the voter’s coalition and if I didn’t have a passport, I wouldn’t have an acceptable form of ID to vote in Pennsylvania. I know you can be a responsible person and not have an acceptable form of ID."

Well, the hackathon liked her idea and formulated a team to help Anderson to build a prototype. The result is an easy-to-navigate site that, unlike the other voter ID sites, informs voters, state by state, of what kind of ID they’ll need, the documentation required to get it, where to go and how to get there, including by public transportation.

But it’s one thing to have an idea, no matter how important, and another to bring it to fruition. And so far her funding goals have fallen short. But unlike many of the voters who may not cast ballots because of all the hoops they’ll have to jump through, Anderson’s not giving up.

"We got over a thousand likes on Facebook and a bunch of retweets, but there seems to be a disconnect between outrage and actually doing something."

To contact Anderson, e-mail her at


Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986, or on Twitter @Annettejh