The recent voter ID law that was passed in Pennsylvania, in April, has created such a political stir that grassroots leaders, prominent community organizations, politicians and clergy, have shifted into overdrive to push voter registration, voter turnout and an educational blitz about the proper ID required to vote in the November election.
During a citywide voter ID rally, held on Sunday at Bright Hope Baptist Church, the Tribune caught up with civil rights leader Jerome Whyatt Mondesire, president, NAACP/Philadelphia Chapter, for his comments about the voter ID law. Mondesire believes the voter ID law is a veiled political attempt to suppress votes: “We firmly believe that, it’s not just in Pennsylvania; there are 41 states where they have tried this, it is designed to keep the turnout of African Americans, Latinos, young people and seniors down … Republicans believe that if they are able to keep the vote down, that they can possibly win several key states that they didn’t win in 2008.”
Mondesire did not mince words in further excoriating high ranking Republicans for crafting the voter ID law for this particular election cycle, “It’s all about the politics, to talk about stopping fraud, it’s just a lie. (Governor) Corbett’s a liar and his colleagues in the state House and the state Senate who passed this law, they’re equally liars.”
According to an August 10, 2012 news article published in the Altoona Mirror newspaper, in Altoona, Pa. (“Voter ID Law, Wrong”), it read: “Pennsylvania recently passed a voter ID law, citing the need to protect against voting fraud. However, there hasn’t been any such widespread fraud in the state, with only four cases of voting fraud documented since 2004.
Recently, Rep. Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania House majority leader, revealed the real reason the voter ID law was passed. Speaking to a Republican gathering, he bragged the voter ID law will ensure Gov. Mitt Romney a victory in Pennsylvania.”
Cherelle Parker, state Representative (D-200th District) and chair, Philadelphia Delegation of the Pennsylvania House, received a standing ovation during her brief speech at the Bright Hope Baptist Church Voter ID Rally, “The clergy, of all faiths, has always been at the lead to motivate and inspire and to organize … we all have to take responsibility for ensuring that we won’t allow any law, any legislator, or anything of that nature, to infringe on our constitutional right to vote.”
Parker cited that in the 2008 presidential election, Pennsylvania delivered a victory for Obama by a slim margin of votes saying, “I didn’t realize that there was such a short-small margin of victory between the winner and the loser in the last presidential election … there was only a 620,000 vote difference … we have 12 million people here (in Pennsylvania), and the (state) election was determined by a little over a half million people.”
The VIP guests on the dais, representing and supporting the Pennsylvania Voter ID Faith-Based Coalition/Voter ID Rally at Bright Hope, included a diversity of ethnicities, genders, faiths, political hierarchy and community leadership: Rev. Dr. J. Wendall Mapson Jr., pastor, Monumental Baptist Church; Everette Gillison, chief of staff, Mayor’s Office; Stephanie Singer, chair, Philadelphia County Commissioners; Rev. Charles Quann, pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church (Penllyn, Pa.); Rabbi Alan D. Fuchs (retired), Congregation Rodeph Shalom; Rev. Bonnie Camarda, Hispanic Clergy Community; Minister Rodney Muhammad, Muhammad Mosque No. 12; Imam Suetwedien Muhammad, resident imam of Masjid Muhammad of Philadelphia; state Representative Cherelle Parker; Rev. Dr. Kevin R. Johnson, pastor, Bright Hope Baptist Church; Rabbi Adam Zeff, Germantown Jewish Center; Rev. Tamieka Moore, Tenth Memorial Baptist Church; Rev. Dr. William Moore, pastor, Tenth Memorial Baptist Church; and Ellen Kaplan, vice president and policy director at Committee of Seventy/Greater Philadelphia Area.
Commenting on the voter ID law, Rev. Quann said, “I really think it’s a moral issue … (African Americans) have been denied the right to vote for many years. People have given their lives to vote, and I just believe in my heart that this (election) is not about a particular candidate, but rather, it’s an opportunity for people to vote based upon their choice. And when that’s taken away, then we have to really respond, so, I’m here today to respond on behalf of a people,” who many believe are targeted to be disenfranchised from voting this election cycle.
“It’s important that everyone vote and that we teach people how to get their proper ID to do so. If the law makes it difficult for people who have every right to vote, to do so, then the law I think, becomes a problem; but we’re going to do the best we can to make sure that everybody’s able to vote,” said Rabbi Fuchs.
Rabbi Zeff said his synagogue and the Jewish community are very active in advocating for voter rights for all people saying, “we thought with the passage of the Voting Rights Act (of 1965) that our fight was over and that we had won; and now we’re finding that our fight is not over, and that the right to vote is being attacked, even in our (current day). So, we see this as an issue of justice and equality, that whoever people support for an election, and whatever partisan views that they may have, their voice deserves to be heard. And this (voter ID) law … makes it more difficult, especially for certain classes of voters, who have every right to vote, to be able to exercise that right. It’s an unjust law … we need to work to help voters comply with this law, even while thinking, it’s an unjust law.”
“People need help in navigating the law and navigating the process, and we just want to be available as faith leaders, because we feel it is our responsibility to speak for social justice issues and for equality. We just want to help empower (citizens) so that they can make their voices heard through the ballot, which is the democratic way,” said Rev. Mapson.
The Committee of Seventy, a prominent non-profit that advocates for effective government and fair elections, has published a list of area churches where the community can find information and help with voter ID requirements. An abridged listing includes: Bible Way Baptist Church, 1323 N. 52nd St., Philadelphia, Pa.; St. Mark AME Zion Church, 136 N. Congress St., Newton, Pa.; Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Holmesburg, 8101 Erdick St., Holmesburg, Pa.; Tenth Memorial Baptist Church, 1328 N. 19th St., Philadelphia, Pa.; and Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, 128 Walnut St., Ardmore, Pa.
For 25 years, Imam Suetwedien Muhammad, has been the resident imam of Masjid Muhammad of Philadelphia, in Germantown. He expressed impassioned feelings about the voter ID law and other recent political maneuverings, “We appreciate being able to hold such a rally to educate our people (about the voter ID law), but I really look at it as another form of modern day slavery. As we begin to close 40 schools, open 10 new prisons, and begin to take the right away from our people to vote, I think it’s a travesty in our community.” As a committeeman in his neighborhood, Imam Muhammad said, “I have worked the (voting) polls myself…I’ve worked the polls for the last 20 years, and there’s no voter fraud going on at the polls.”
According to Stephanie Singer, chair, Philadelphia County Commissioners, the voter ID law, “Is an attack on Philadelphia. This law is designed to suppress the vote in Philadelphia, and all of us Philadelphians … all of us need to come together to defend our city against this attack. I want people to know that voting is powerful, and that every election matters … elections have consequences, and when we as a city do not turn out to vote, we are giving up power to the rest of the state.”
Everett Gillison, former deputy mayor for public safety and current chief of staff to Mayor Michael Nutter, had this to say about the voter ID law: “As the mayor would say, ‘Democracy began here (in Philadelphia).’ And this (voter ID law) is an attack on our fundamental right to vote and to participate. That’s why voter education is so critically important, and the mayor wanted to make sure that we all rallied together and do what’s necessary to protect our rights.” Gillison said that a more measured approach to rolling out this law and greater public education would have been a better way to implement the law. Furthermore, Gillison concluded that, according to Mayor Nutter, the voter ID law “was a remedy in search of a problem.”
Joe Certaina, co-convener and director of operations for the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, said that “The main purpose of (today’s rally is) to form an alliance, a grassroots alliance, with the faith community in Philadelphia County and the surrounding area. From that alliance, we expect to harness volunteers as well as voter educational opportunities through voter ID clinics, and to put together a transportation network that will help people to get to the Pennsylvania PennDot offices … in time for people to get the voter identification they need to vote.”
For more information about proper voter identification, or to volunteer, the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition’s office is at 310 West Chelten Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa., phone: 215-848-1283; or visit the Committee of Seventy website: http://www.seventy.org/.
“We cannot sit here and say we’re not going to vote, simply because the law has changed. You have to vote, beloved … ,” said Rev. Kevin Johnson, pastor, Bright Hope Baptist Church.