Local Groups Shift to Educate Immigrants on New PA Voter ID LawBy Andy Sharpe |
The Pennsylvania Voter ID Coaliton opened its Philadelphia headquarters last Saturday at 310 W. Chelten Ave. in Germantown. (Photo by Aaron Moselle via NewsWorks)
For the past five months, Pennsylvania has been thrust into the national spotlight. While the Commonwealth is used to the glean of the limelight in advance of a presidential election, this time the attention centers around the tough new voter ID law that was signed into law by Gov. Corbett during the spring.
As of this morning, Voter ID stands, for now. “Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson issued a decision declining to block implementation of the state’s voter ID law,” reported fair elections group Committee of Seventy. The plaintiffs are expected to appeal shortly to the PA Supreme Court.
While the law remains in debate, local nonprofits are hard at work educating Greater Philadelphians about what they’ll need to vote. One demographic that is receiving special attention is immigrants. As a matter of fact, nonprofits such as the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians are working to ensure immigrants can vote on November 6th.
The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians and other nonprofits are especially concerned about Puerto Ricans being unable to vote because they lack a proper form of ID, says Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, Director of Outreach and Program Evaluation for the Center. This is because the Puerto Rican government nullified all birth certificates in 2010 out of identify theft fear. Thus, this could complicate efforts to vote for the 120,000 Puerto Rican born residents across Pennsylvania. If any of these residents don’t have a driver’s license or non-driver’s state ID, they would also have to go to the trouble of acquiring a replacement Puerto Rican birth certificate.
Bergson-Shilcock reports that the Welcoming Center has not yet been bombarded with calls and e-mails from Puerto Rican Pennsylvanians, although the number could certainly go up as we inch closer to the presidential election day. The voter ID has become so notorious that the Puerto Rican government has taken notice. “The Puerto Rican government has just announced that all requests from Pennsylvania will be given priority,” says Bergson-Shilcock. Currently, the immigrant services nonprofit is taking about a month to assist Puerto Ricans who need a valid photo ID, although the time period is liable to change.
Outreach shifts into high gear
The Welcoming Center has joined about 145 other nonprofits, unions, institutions, and media outlets in the non-partisan Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, which has largely been organized by Committee of Seventy. Other members of the coalition who represent immigrants include Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), The Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations (Concilio), the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, and the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania.
The state Voter ID Coalition and Committee of Seventy have begun to shift into high gear in their campaign to raise voter awareness of the new photo ID requirement. They recently held a pep rally at Yorktown’s Bright Hope Baptist Church to urge worshippers and other attendees to let their friends, family, and neighbors know about the law. Speakers included City Commission chairwoman Stephanie Singer, state representative Cherelle Parker, and Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clergy members.
The Committee of Seventy and the coalition are doing much more than just pep rallies to get the word out. They’ve set up a hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) that “can answer questions from anybody anywhere,” says Zack Stalberg, the president and CEO of the Committee. The hotline can even refer callers in other states that have enacted similar photo ID prerequisites to respective agencies across the country. Stalberg adds that his organization has printed material explaining the new voter regulations in Spanish, and has plans to print more material in several Asian languages.
Even for immigrants who currently possess the required photo ID, there’s always a chance they could lose it in a fire, flood, or theft. Bergson-Shilcock stresses that if immigrants were to lose their photo ID, passport, and naturalization papers, they would have to wait six months to receive replacements through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration office. Six months from today would be December, which comes after the much anticipated presidential election. The six-month time period doesn’t take language or income barriers into account.
The Welcoming Center expects three major challenges that they will have to aggressively tackle in the short window of time between now and Election Day. The weightiest challenge will be disseminating the specifics about the voter ID law to the nearly 345,000 immigrants who are eligible to vote across the Commonwealth. “Most of the general public, including immigrants, is not even aware of the law,” says Bergson-Shilcock somberly. The other two challenges are correcting misconceptions about the new law and connecting immigrants to transportation and other resources they need to obtain a photo ID.blog comments powered by Disqus