THE BLOG

Time Sensitive Democracy

09/30/2012 11:18 pm ET | Updated Nov 30, 2012

By this Tuesday, October 2, Pennsylvania Republican Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. will deliver his decision on whether or not new, highly restrictive voter identification laws in that state should be struck down, partially upheld or left standing. Regardless of his decision, the case will be quickly appealed back up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which has already heard the case once before and had sent it back to Judge Simpson like a yoyo. Meanwhile, while the deadline for voter registration in the state is October 9, you still need an acceptable voter ID to actually vote.

Republican Governor Tom Corbett and the Republican-led Pennsylvania legislature passed these laws in their claimed attempt to clamp down on voter fraud, though none could be found in the state's history. But then, Pennsylvania GOP House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai, did tip his hand just a wee bit when he announced back in June that the law "is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."

Tom Corbett and Mike Tursai obviously haven't met Marian Fydrych. At 92, Marian seems tiny and frail, but there's strength and passion in her voice as she describes the stringent voter identification laws now in effect in Pennsylvania. "People are angry. It's such an important civil rights issue. We all have to get off our butts and do something!" she urges. She says she thinks she's voted in every presidential election since she turned 21 back in 1940 (FDR vs Wendell Willikie) and she wants to make sure she gets to vote in this one too.

Joan Lukas, a mere child at 70 by comparison, is a retired UMass math and computer science professor who moved to Center City Philadelphia because she thinks it's a great urban environment in which to live. A Quaker and a member of the Granny Peace Brigader of Philadelphia, Joan jumped into the ever-evolving fray over voter identification and voter rights when, as she puts it, "I saw a major civil rights issue right in my backyard."

Working together, these two older women were able to overcome a daunting series of obstacles to get the 92-year old Marian the Pennsylvania-required identification documents so she could vote.

Joan and Marian were brought together for me to interview by Kathleen Unger, founder of a non-partisan non-profit -- VoteRiders.com -- which helps citizens in states across the country meet voter ID laws requiring various levels of identification in order to be able to vote. "The Pennsylvania law that was passed in March requires a copy of your birth certificate with a raised seal and legal documentation of any change of name since then. Plus, you need a social security card. Plus, two acceptable documents showing your name and address. All of which can be complicated, cost money, and take a lot of time." Unger said.

"The people most directly affected by these laws are older Americans, people of color, college students, and people with disabilities or low income. In Pennsylvania alone, that could mean somewhere between 80,000 and one and a half million people. No one seems to know for sure,"
Unger laments.

Marian, who has lived in the same house in Fishtown on the east side of Philadelphia for the past 60 years, wastes no words, "There's going to be chaos on Election Day." Her husband died 30 years ago, she lives alone and is totally self-sufficient, except she doesn't drive. She once had a non-driver ID card but she lost it. PennDOT (known elsewhere as the DMV) said they had a discrepancy in their records and although she had a Social Security card, it was in her maiden name. After two years of trying to correct this, she gave up, never thinking it could cost her right to vote.

Marian wouldn't take no for an answer. Through the League of Women Voters of Philadelphia she was contacted by Joan, who is coordinating the League's Voter Advocates program.

"When I called Social Security on her behalf," Joan said, "they told me she would have to apply for a new card at the Center City office at 2 Penn Center, not the one near her house. The requirements for this included a secure photo ID, which is a bit circular because she was applying for this card in order to get a secure photo ID. When I politely complained about this, they asked if she had a medical insurance card with a photo and a few other documents such as a life insurance statement," Joan continued.

"Last Friday we gathered up all her documents, and my husband, Seamus, rented a car and drove us to Penn Center. She was terrified of going to Center City, plus she had some pain in her leg that had recently had surgery," Joan said. "Once the Social Security representative looked over her documents, he was able to correct her record fairly quickly. He gave us a letter to bring back to PennDOT and said that she would receive a new card in the mail with the correct name."

Joan had to make a second appointment for last Friday, both to give Marian a rest and to allow time for the document correction to percolate through the system. She was able to verify online that Marian is a registered voter but was unable to determine whether or not she was in the PennDOT system.

"My next worry occurred when we arrived at her house that morning. I wanted to have one more look at her papers and was dismayed to learn that she had discarded the letter from Social Security and her photo ID application. I had her fill out a new application while my husband literally searched through her trash for the letter. He didn't find it, but when Marian told me that she had received the new card and I saw that it was dated September 21, 2012. I thought we would be ok.

"We arrived at the Columbus Blvd PennDOT at 9:40 a.m. and received a paper listing her number in line. Her number was called at 11 am. Then we hit another wrinkle. The PennDOT representative said that she was in the system, but that her old card had expired. She wouldn't be eligible for a free Pennsylvania Department of State ID and that she would have to apply for a replacement card which would cost $13.50. Fortunately, Marian carries a single check in her purse and so she left with a new PennDOT ID," Joan concluded happily.

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Marian Fydrych and Joan Kukas Leave PennDOT with 92-year old Marian's voter ID card

Marian piped up a fitting conclusion to this now common tale of voter woes in Pennsylvania and in 30 other states across the U.S. "It's a disgrace," she said. "We're all citizens and we should be allowed to vote. Nobody's in charge. Never had anything like this in my life. I think it was a crazy thing to do. Some laws are made to be broken and some law shouldn't even be made."