A panel discussion about voter ID laws in Pennsylvania took place at the Liberties Bar and Restaurant, in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties area. The discussion was sponsored by the Philadelphia chapter of the Jewish labor Committee (JLC) in collaboration with the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).
Referring to the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision suspending provisions of the voter ID law, Hornstein said, “We’re going to pivot the energy from making sure everyone has the proper ID, which is of course what the right-wing wanted us to be focused on, to actually getting out the vote.
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“The Jewish Labor Committee,” added Hornstein, “is really about building bridges between the Labor community and the Jewish community. Back in my grandmother’s day, Jews and Labor were synonymous. Nowadays, except for teachers and some classifications of work, Jews are now highly represented in the Labor movement, except on staffs. We feel it’s important, because the Jewish community is generally a progressive community, and generally in tune with what the Labor movement does, if they knew what was going on.”
Hornstein introduced the panel: Laura Wentz, Executive Vice-President of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and member of IATSE Local 8; Elizabeth McElroy, Secretary-Treasurer of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO; State Senator Daylin Leach; and Anne Gemmell, Political Director of Fight for Philly.
Fighting the voter ID bills was, as Dalyin Leach put it, “in the last few months my full-time job…One of my most recent experiences was debating (House Republican Leader) Mike Turzai on Fox News.” Leach described Turzai as “just out of it, reading notes and talking to people off camera during the debate.”
Judge Robert Simpson, added Leach, “was not considering the constitutionality of voter ID, as was often misrepresented in the press. Judge Simpson was considering the preliminary injunction, (and) to grant a preliminary injunction, you are not required to find that a law in unconstitutional, all you have to find is that there is a reasonable likelihood (that there is) a strong case that it’s unconstitutional.” The State Supreme Court said, added Leach, that “in order for this law to survive for the 2012 election, the judge had (to hold) another hearing and find, as a factual matter, that everyone in Pennsylvania who wanted an ID could feasibly get an ID.”
Pointing out that many of the 71 offices of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) were only open one day a week, Leach said, “If you take the total number of PennDOT hours, and the total number of people that need these IDs, every PennDOT office would essentially have to give out a thousand IDs a day. If a thousand people showed up to a PennDOT office, 970 of them would be sent home.”
Of the claim that the voter ID bills were designed to eliminate voter fraud, Leach said, “Any remedy you craft has to be in response to an actual problem. In-person voter fraud is not an actual problem, in that it never happens…People tend not to commit extremely high-risk, no-reward crimes-that’s just human nature.” Leach also raised the danger of “fistfights as polls, as people who voted for fifty years showed up at the polls show up and the person who’s been signing them in for fifty years told them they couldn’t vote- that’s going to get very ugly. There’s going to be people challenging every single ID at certain polls, and that will create long lines and (they will) hope that people go away without voting.”
Ann Gemmell pointed out the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), where “they sit around and create model legislation, and as soon as they get total control of a state house and senate, they start flying this legislation in, and it happened in Pennsylvania.’ Gemmell said that progressive have been “spending a lot of time and energy that could be spent on talking about Kathy Kane (running for Pennsylvania Attorney General) and registering voters.”
Liz McElroy reminded people that “Before 2006, no state had a law in their books for photo ID every time somebody voted. Today, now, at least thirty (states) do. That’s not an accident, if you think about what happened in those intervening six years in this country.” There are many people, said McElroy, “who think, what’s the big deal about voter ID? You need a (driver’s) license to but cigarettes, you need a license to buy beer, all these things you need ID to do. It’s not necessarily crazy right-wing people who are saying this, it’s our friends, neighbors, and union members.
“It’s a big deal because,” said McElroy, “it’s not my right to get on an airplane, (but) it’s my right to go into the voting booth and vote, so they’re very different things. It’s not my right to buy cigarettes or beer, but it’s my right to walk into a voting booth.” In the years from 2006, she added, “We’ve seen a relentless attack on workers, on teachers, on public employees- I’m not just talking union workers, (but on) all workers.” Companies, she said, want to “completely cut workers’ benefits and pay, and exploit them. You’ve got to work more hours for less money, (or) we’ll ship your job to China. That conversation has been around for a long time…The same people who are coming after us as workers, or as women (attacking) our reproductive rights, or as Gays and Lesbians, whatever category, they’re the same people who are going after our voting rights. It’s all tied together, and it’s really one of those issues that, truly, we’re all in it together.”