On Tuesday, I will participate in a voter ID rally at the state Capitol, organized by the NAACP. Like many similar events held around the state in the last few months, we will raise our voices against the state's new voter ID law that will deprive hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians of their constitutional right to vote.
The rally will be held on the eve of the court hearing regarding a legal challenge to the law. Ten citizens and four organizations filed a lawsuit against the law. Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court, which will hear the case on July 25, will decide whether to overturn the law.
For many of us, it was clear from its first introduction that this law requiring all voters to show valid government-issued photo ID in order to vote was an attempt to suppress the vote -- an obvious effort to keep thousands of senior citizens, the poor, urban residents, members of racial and cultural minorities and survivors of crime and domestic violence from voting, simply because these groups traditionally lean toward supporting Democratic candidates.
Republicans objected to this characterization, saying requiring photo ID as a condition to vote would combat impersonation voter fraud -- even though they could not prove that this kind of fraud exists, even though Republicans who claimed to have witnessed "truckloads of people bused in to vote for Obama" never reported it to law enforcement authorities, and even though no prosecutor I queried was aware of this type of voter fraud and told me that no one at all had brought it to their attention.
Then, in June House Republican Leader Mike Turzai made clear the GOP's true intention regarding the voter ID law when he boasted at a closed Republican political event that voter ID was done to ensure Mitt Romney's election. (You can view the video at http://bit.ly/MR10hE)
Many Pennsylvanians and Americans are rightfully angry.
Since its enactment just a few months ago, thousands of people have been greatly inconvenienced and have wasted time and money to track down the proper documents in order to obtain a photo ID to vote. When the law was enacted in March, Republicans argued that 99 percent of Pennsylvania's voters already had acceptable photo ID. But state election officials in July admitted that 758,000 registered voters -- that's 9.2 percent of registered voters -- do not have the required ID.
So now the state is spending millions on this law, although our new budget only allocates $1 million for the extra voter IDs PennDOT will need to provide. However, the state has already handed out 2,477 free photo IDs for which it usually charges $13.50 per person. If only a third of the state's 758,939 voters without photo ID request one, that's more than $3 million in lost revenue.
Even state employee IDs -- which are specifically listed in the law as an approved form of photo ID -- now must be reissued with an expiration date in order to be compatible with the new law, and this is costing 91 cents per reissued ID.
Additionally, the Department of State has announced it will spend $5 million to "educate" citizens on voter ID. I'm not questioning the need for and importance of outreach, but the commonwealth is now planning to spend at least $1.2 million more than what Republicans initially said was needed. That doesn't take into account additional outreach that might be necessary.
This is an enormous leap into fiscal irresponsibility by the Corbett administration and the Republican majority in general.
In the face of people's important needs -- like a job or quality education for their children, clean air and safe drinking water, treatment for behavioral diseases and physical conditions, law enforcement and public safety, not to mention support for the poor, the hungry and the vulnerable -- spending this money to fix a political problem that is facing Republicans is unconscionable.
It's well past time to repeal this law. I am co-sponsoring House Bill 2313 with 60 other legislators to repeal it, should the court not strike it down.
People ask me what's the big deal? You need ID to get a pack of cigarettes, a drink at a bar or open a bank account. But no one ever died to get a smoke or a beer or credit. That's the big deal.
-- State Rep. Babette Josephs represents the 182nd Legislative District in Philadelphia and serves as Democratic chairwoman of the House State Government Committee.