Sticky temperatures and an impending rainstorm didn’t stop Troy Allen from attending a Wednesday evening education session centered on the state’s controversial voter ID law.
A week before the ACLU’s constitution-based challenge is heard in Harrisburg; Allen was more concerned about his own.
In his role with the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network (PAAN), Allen works with youth ex-offenders. As part of that job, he routinely helps men and women obtain photo identification as a majority exit the prison system without one to their name.
“They’re able to [vote], but some of them don’t know how to go out and get IDs,” he said, noting that many of them don’t have a birth certificate or a social security card, both critical documents in the process.
A number of the folks with whom Allen works are originally from out-of-state, but offended in Pennsylvania. That means dealing with any number of family members or state governments to get what’s needed.
With a fast-approaching Presidential election and, with it, the requirement to present valid photo identification before casting a ballot, Allen expects to have his hands full.
“A lot of them do want to vote, but they know that they’re backs are against the wall,” he said.
Allen came to the fourth floor of the Allegheny Business Center hoping to get some guidance on how to more quickly navigate getting the necessary paperwork for whoever may be interested.
Inside a small room across from a hair salon and a barber shop, Allen got the lead he wanted.
Dispensing information, advice
Greg Irving with the City Commissioner’s Office and Dwayne Lilley, campaign manager for state Sen. Shirley Kitchen (D-Philadelphia), whose office organized the event, teamed up to provide information to a handful of attendees – ward leaders and, like Allen, staffers with local organizations.
As he highlighted some of the nuances of the law, Irving had a clear message: It’s not too early to start the process of obtaining an ID.
And in a Democratic city, he had an underlying political one too.
“We don’t want to blow this folks,” said Irving. “Let’s beat them at their own game. Everyone you know put the word out to them.”
Irving noted that voters can use expired driver’s licenses and other valid form of identification as long as they’ve been so for a year or less.
He also spent time discussing specifics about seniors and college students, among the populations expected to be hit the hardest by the new requirement.
Irving explained that wheelchair-bound seniors registered at polling places that are not wheelchair accessible can vote without presenting an ID using an alternative absentee ballot under the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act.
College students studying out-of-state who plan on using an absentee ballot, he said, must still send in a copy of a Pennsylvania-issued ID.
Lilley chimed in at times, but was mostly focused on recruiting team leaders to go out into the community to help educate residents identified by PennDOT as being ID-less on how to change their status so they’re able to vote come November.
“The more people I can get, the better,” said Lilley. “This is an issue that needs to be attacked. We can’t keep talking about it.”
Kitchen’s district, which includes parts of Germantown and North Philadelphia, has at least 2,900 voters without IDs, according to Lilly. That figure only represents those in the city’s 11th Ward.
First of many sessions
As folks headed for their cars, state Sen. Kitchen said her office will continue to hold similar events moving forward.
The five-term lawmaker noted that there simply hasn’t been a strong enough outreach effort addressing the issue to date, and that the clock for voters to get an ID is ticking away.
“It’s obvious that there’s not enough information being distributed,” said Kitchen. “And in today’s economy, most groups don’t have money to do the proper advertising.”
Recognizing that reality, Kitchen decided to move forward with educating the public herself.
“We have to do something and word does travel,” she said.
Kitchen noted that another session will be held next week. A date and time has not yet been determined.