Shouldn’t Voting Be Easier?

By Nora Kenty, WLP Intern

Tomorrow, on October 1, Pennsylvanians will be flocking to the State Capitol in Harrisburg to encourage the House of Representatives to pass SB 37, also known as the Online Voter Registration Bill.  This bill, aimed at modernizing the state’s problematic election system, would not only facilitate voter registration for those who are eligible, but it would also improve accuracy of voter rolls, provide additional security, and save tax-payer dollars.  In a world where many people can pay their bills online, communicate with family members over the internet, and even grocery shop on the web, it makes sense to bring voter registration into the 21st century.  Eleven states already offer paperless options for voting registration.  The bill also proposes early voting options without an excuse, and alterations in the processes for reviewing absentee ballots.  In the face of efforts to disenfranchise voters around the country, Bill 37 is pushing for increased ease of voting and more widespread access for all sectors of the population.

After the Supreme Court ruled to dismantle the Voting Rights Act, many states jumped at the opportunity to bolster their Voter ID laws, making it especially difficult for their poor and elderly citizens to vote.  Despite the obvious disenfranchisement occurring, proponents of Voter ID laws argue that the policies prevent (nonexistent) voter fraud, and anyone can get an adequate ID and vote.  This is simply not the case.

Dorothy Card is an 84-year-old woman living in Texas.  In remembering the first presidential election in which she exercised her right to vote, she says, “Truman, I guess I voted for him.” Now after sixty years of participating in United States elections, and playing a part in politics that the women before her fought for long and hard, Dorothy’s political participation may come to an end.  The culprit is the new Voter ID law in Texas!

Dorothy hasn’t driven in 15 years, so she no longer has a driver’s license.  She dutifully went to her local Department of Public Safety to obtain a voting ID, but because she lacked a photo ID she left empty-handed.  So she went home and called the county courthouse to get a copy of her marriage license, a document that would have enabled her to get the ID.  Officials there could not locate it for her, so she asked if the county administrator would write a letter explaining this.  They did, and she brought it to the DPS Office .  Still they refused to give her the ID.  So Dorothy’s daughter, a legal assistant, stepped in and asked what documentation was needed, and helped her mother obtain it.  Dorothy went back to the DPS a third time, and was denied again.  This is exemplary of what Rachel Maddow called a “dangerous, million-step process, newly instituted for you to exercise a right that used to be really easy.”

Only once local media outlet KTRK was alerted to the story did public officials step in and tell Dorothy they would be granting her the voting ID.

This story is fraught with what-ifs:

What if Dorothy hadn’t had the resources to drive to and from the Department of Public Safety three times?  In Pennsylvania, nine counties do not have a single PennDOT center that provides an ID that can be used for voting.

What if Dorothy, like so many women, had to take care of her children on her own in addition to working several jobs, leaving her with no time to make the fruitless trips?  In Pennsylvania, 75.4% of single mothers with children ages 0-17 were also in the labor force.

What if a local news outlet didn’t pick up the story, prompting the DPS into action?  According to the ACLU of PA, “regardless of who analyzes it or how it is analyzed, the number of registered voters without the ID required to vote is in the hundreds of thousands.”  Dorothy’s story will hopefully shed light on the problem as a whole, but it is the system that needs to be changed rather than tackling voting ID’s on a case-by-case basis.

Voting in a U.S. election is a privilege, but it is also our right as citizens.  There should be no what-ifs in the process.  If elected officials can work to take the right to vote away from American citizens, what’s next?  In 2010, only 39% of the 53 million unmarried women in the U.S. were registered to vote at all.

Pennsylvania SB 37, the Online Voting Registration bill, is currently in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.  Passing this bill could help change the voting statistics by making it easier for citizens to exercise their right.

Action: contact your representative in the Pennsylvania House and ask them to support SB 37 to make voting more accessible.

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