Easton Area Voices Weigh in on Voter ID Ruling
Judge Robert Simpson's ruling to uphold Pennsylvania's new Voter ID law spurred strong reaction from both sides of the issue.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson upheld Pennsylvania’s controversial Voter ID law in an announcement Wednesday. Simpson, who is from Nazareth, said he wouldn’t grant an injunction to stop the law requiring all voters to show an official photo ID before voting.
Witold J. Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union, which fought the law, told The Washington Post that the case isn't over. “It’s why they make appeals courts.”
Here are some local reactions to the ruling:
State Sen. Bob Mensch, a Republican who represents the 24th District which includes Easton, Wilson and West Easton:
“I really expected that it would be upheld,” Mensch said. “The other side was trying to use the courts to legislate.”
He said opponents of the law are offering supposition about inconveniences some voters may face but for those who can’t get to the polls – such as senior citizens who don’t drive – they can vote by absentee ballot.
“From everything I’ve seen from the polls and data more than 75 percent of the people in the state approve of Voter ID, he said. "Voter ID will simplify all the issues, I really believe that. Particularly when we use ID for so many other things in our lives.”
State House Rep. Robert Freeman, a Democrat who represents Easton, said he was very disappointed in the judge’s decision because the law provides an “artificial, unnecessary barrier to the constitutional right to vote.”
“There have only been four cases of voter fraud documented in Pennsylvania since 2004 and the instances of voter impersonation are non-existent," he said.
“What it’s really designed to do is suppress the vote from people who have been traditionally core groups for Democrats,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of senior citizens who will walk into that polling place with expired licenses and they won’t be a allowed to vote.”
Freeman cited an example from last spring after Ohio adopted a photo ID law. “In Aurora, Ohio, in the March 6 primary, an 86-year-old veteran who lived in his neighborbood for years but has an expired license goes to vote,” Freeman said. “The poll workers knew who he was, they knew he was a registered voter but he didn’t have the proper ID. He was denied the right to vote.”
Ronnie DelBacco, vice chairman of the Easton Republican Committee, said the city GOP put together a seminar at the senior center at Centre Square in Easton in June to educate the public on what the law would require so they wouldn’t be turned away at the polls in November. He said he has heard public service announcements telling voters where to get the proper identification.
“One by one states are adopting laws to prevent fraud at the voting booth,” he said. “We need a photo ID to do just about everything… Why wouldn’t we want a photo ID to protect our most sacred right to vote?”
Alan Jennings, executive director of Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, said the law is “clearly a deliberate effort to disempower certain voters on behalf of other voters.”
Jennings cited Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai’s declaration at a GOP State Committee meeting. Turzai said: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania – done.”
“This is a blantant effort, as sinister as it is cynical, to take away the most fundamental right we have as Americans,” Jennings said. “Unless the judge doesn’t understand the day-to-day travails of average people, it’s unimaginable that he could have come to that decision.”
Jennings said his organization works with people who don’t own cars and don’t have the kinds of jobs they can just leave to go “deal with government bureaucracy” to get an official voter ID.
“It’s the kind of thing that has led so many people to give up their faith in our democracy or the notion that they have any say in their government,” he said.
John Faulstick, who lives in Palmer Township but is on the board of the Wilson Borough Republican Club, said it’s not difficult to get the state- issued identification.
“Every responsible adult should have some form of identification on them,” Faulstick said. “Most senior citizens are responsible enough to have ID. I know my mother is 75 years old, she doesn’t drive and she has a state-issued ID.”
Faulstick said an exception should be made for those people who are voting by absentee ballot because they are elderly, sick or disabled.
Walt Garvin, the chairman of the Northampton County Democratic Party said he was extremely disappointed in the decision and warned there will be long lines at the polls on Election Day.
“It was not uncommon to have lines two and three hours long during the past three presidential election cycles,” said Garvin of Bethlehem Township, who is also the former chairman of the Northampton County Election Board.
“The practical impact of this legislation will double and triple those times. Many voters may simply walk away on Election Day,” he said. "Shame on the Republicans in Harrisburg for this despicable attempt to frustrate the Pennsylvania electorate.”
Garvin said the Democrats have obtained a database containing the names of 18,000 registered Northampton County voters who do not have driver’s licenses and are trying to reach out to them to educate and help them get the identification they will need to vote.
Garvin also said he is working with senior centers in the region to help them issue their own photo identification cards, which can be considered valid identification at the polls.
Easton Councilman Roger Ruggles, a Republican:
Roger Ruggles said he agrees with the court’s decision to uphold the law so long as it doesn’t make it too difficult for voters to get proper ID.
“Personally I think it’s good for individuals to show an ID but on the other hand it ought to be relatively easy for individuals to get an ID," he said.
Ruggles, a Lafayette College professor, said he understands there are circumstances where it might be difficult – for example, if someone loses his citizenship papers he needs to obtain ID and would need to pay hundreds of dollars to get copies – but Ruggles said those cases are relatively rare.
He said people are asked for identification often for lots of reasons. "I’m almost 60 years old and I was asked for ID to buy a six pack the other day.”
Adrian Shanker, who works in Easton and is president of Equality Pennsylvania, which advocates for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people, said:
“It’s a solution in search of a problem meant to suppress the vote for people who are most at risk for not having an ID and that includes transgender people as well as seniors, students and communities of color.”
“The reality is that it is impossible to apply this uniformly to voters when voters in some Pennsylvania counties don’t have a local [Drivers License Center] to access Voter ID and when some voters have certain limitations that have prevented them from having these IDs in the first place.”
He cited as an example some transgender people who are in the process of having their legal names changed and might still be registered to vote under their old name.
“Under this voter suppression law, the onus is on the voter to make sure they have the right ID to be able to vote in the upcoming election. And unfortunately, that’s a difficult process for some voters.”