Voting rights in PA threatened
Youngblood: Pa. voter suppression plan one step closer to reality
Phila. lawmaker says bill is unconstitutional, supports legal action if enacted
HARRISBURG, March 8 – State Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood, D-Phila., said that a plan developed to disenfranchise millions of voters in Pennsylvania is one step closer to reality after the state Senate passed the bill yesterday evening. The bill was sent back to the state House for concurrence, and could be voted on as early as Monday, March 12.
Youngblood said the voter suppression plan (H.B. 934), more commonly known as "Voter ID," would require all voters in every election in Pennsylvania to present a federal- or state-issued photo identification card at the polls before being allowed to vote. The plan, Youngblood said, is using the guise of voter fraud as means to disenfranchise eligible voters.
"Proponents of this legislation are trying to say that voter fraud is rampant in Pennsylvania, but the reality is there were only four cases of voter fraud reported out of the nearly 9 million eligible voters in 2008," Youngblood said. "In fact, research suggests that voters are 39 times more likely to be struck by lightning than commit voter fraud at the polls. This plan will suppress the right to vote for millions of Pennsylvanians, and hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians, by making it harder to vote for those who do not have a photo ID."
Under the proposal, voters who do not have photo ID – including many senior citizens who no longer drive and residents living in urban communities that utilize public transportation – would have to go through the time and expense of obtaining photo ID just to vote. According to the League of Women Voters, 18 percent of senior citizens, or around 340,000 people, do not have photo ID.
"The consequences to this plan far outweigh any of the perceived positives," Youngblood said. "One can question the motives of this Republican-driven proposal since the majority of seniors and urban voters vote for Democratic candidates. I would understand if the threat of voter fraud existed, but it doesn't. This is a political tactic to limit voter turnout, plain and simple."
In addition, this bill would cost the state millions of dollars and place a significant burden on Pennsylvania counties who manage local elections. If enacted, this bill will cost between $4 million and $11 million in its first year for photo ID cards, voter education, voter notification, equipment and staff, Youngblood added.
"At a time when state funding for education and critical public services are being slashed, can we really afford to spend $11 million in taxpayer money on this program?" Youngblood asked. "We should not create barriers to voting. We should be encouraging participation and educating our citizens on the importance of being involved in the political process."
Youngblood echoed the sentiments of the many advocacy groups, including the AARP and NAACP who vowed to take legal action if the legislation is enacted. She said the proposal violates Article 7, section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution that guarantees every citizen 21 years of age or older the right to vote. The constitution permits the General Assembly to pass laws regarding registration requirements, but does not permit laws that restrict voter rights.
"Throughout American history, there have been attempts to suppress voter rights and each time they have been found unconstitutional," she said. "Our state constitution protects voters from needless and senseless barriers that impair our rights to vote."
To highlight the irony of yesterday's vote, on the same day the Pennsylvania Senate approved this proposal, a Wisconsin court ruled similar legislation approved by that state's legislature was unconstitutional. During his ruling, Dayne County, WI Judge David Flanagan called the Voter ID law one of the most restrictive election laws in the country.
Youngblood is urging the community to contact their state representative, as well as Gov. Tom Corbett's office, to express concerns over H.B 934. Citizens can visit www.legis.state.pa.us to find their state representative, and call the governor's office at (717) 787-2500 to voice opposition to this proposal.
"We need to be vigilant and we need to stand up for the millions of Pennsylvanians who will be disenfranchised by this unconstitutional law," she said. "After all that this nation has been through in its history, I never thought that we would be back to addressing the issue of voter suppression. It's appalling."
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