City Council members are digging into their own pockets to make sure Philadelphians who want to get state-approved voter identification can do so.
“We will leave no stone unturned in terms of our ability to make sure that people, if they want to get ID, if they want to be in a position to vote, that the opportunity will be there,” said Council President Darrell Clarke. “We’re going to do whatever we have to do.”
Clarke, flanked by members Cindy Bass, Bobby Henon and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, along with members of the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, made the announcement Monday at Strawberry Mansion High School.
“I really believe this is going to backfire on these people,” Clarke said, referring to the Republican majority in the state legislature who approved the law, calling the law “ill conceived.”
Clarke said Council will provide transportation for people who need to get to PennDOT licensing centers for their state-approved photo ID, launch a publicity blitz to make sure city residents know about the law and provide assistance in answering voters’ questions.
“The city will not pay for it,” said Clarke. “I don’t want to get caught up in an ugly story about spending taxpayers’ money.”
Instead, Council members have agreed to chip in with outside money. Clarke said his would come from his campaign funds. He could not say how much would be spent.
“We’re going to be sure that we have the necessary resources,” he said. “We’re not sure. Whatever it costs, it costs.”
Opponents say the law will disenfranchise minorities, the elderly, the poor and young voters.
“This law is strategic. It’s targeted, and it’s well-funded,” said John Jordan, director of civic engagement with the state chapter of the NAACP, one of the groups suing the state in a suit that has been going on for four days. “But, it wasn’t very well thought out.”
Clarke’s news came as hearings on the legality of the state’s new voter ID law were being heard in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg. Judge Robert Simpson is presiding over the case, which supporters said Monday would be taken to the Supreme Court if necessary.
Jordan said he expected the law to be overturned “in the next couple of weeks.”
But, Philadelphians don’t have the luxury of being able to wait for the outcome of a lengthy legal process.
“We hope that we will win in litigation,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “But in the interim, we have an obligation to do our civic duty and ensure that everyone has, regardless of what language, access to information, access to the documents they need.”
Last month, the state Department of State released statistics showing that 18 percent of Philadelphians — or 186,830 of the city’s registered voters — do not have a photo ID that meets the state’s requirement to cast a ballot in November. Across the state, that number was an estimated 758,000 registered voters, or 9.2 percent of all registered voters.
Strawberry Mansion High is a polling place, and according to Clarke, is ranked in the top ten wards and divisions hit hardest by the provision of the new ID law.
Bass put the numbers in perspective.
“That’s the entirety of my district,” she said, referring to 18 percent for Philadelphia and adding that at state level “that’s half the city of Philadelphia.”
Supporters of the law contend it is a way to prevent voter fraud. However, one high ranking Republican raised concerns about his party’s intentions when state house leader Mike Turzai said the law will allow Mitt Romney to win the state in November.
“Voter ID … is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” Turzai told a group of Republicans in late June.