By noon on Saturday, a sizable crowd of residents, reverends and city officials had gathered inside a storefront property in Germantown for the opening of the city’s Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition headquarters.
The space at 310 W. Chelten Ave. will serve as mission control for field operations aimed at educating Philadelphians on the nuances of the state’s voter ID law, a controversial measure requiring all voters to present valid photo identification before casting a ballot in state and federal elections.
Volunteers will focus nearly all of their energy on reaching out to voters in the city and nearby suburbs who don’t currently have a proper ID to vote.
Walking the beat
PennDOT recently identified 187,000 residents in Philadelphia who fit that description. That figure represents a little more than 18 percent of the city.
“It’s an enormous task,” said Joe Certaine, a “co-convener” of the coalition, which includes more than 100 organizations across the state. Committee of Seventy, a government watchdog group, is leading the way.
Despite the work ahead, attendees at Saturday’s event appeared ready hit the pavement to tackle the PennDOT figure.
Germantown resident James Randolph noted that he’d like to see many mobilize around the issue.
“I’m hopeful, prayerful, optimistic that it will energize folks because it’s a direct slap in the face to our ancestors, the people who died for us to have the right to vote,” he said.
While supporters of the law maintain that it is a common-sense approach to fighting election-day fraud, opponents argue that it is a thinly veiled effort by Republicans to disenfranchise Democratic voters in advance of the Presidential election in November, when the measure takes full effect.
In March, City Council passed a resolution in opposition to the state Senate voting in favor of the bill. Councilwoman Cindy Bass, whose Eighth District includes Germantown, drafted the non-binding measure.
“This legislation was passed by a legislature and a group of Republican leaders that have actively been working to try and change the results of a national election,” said Bass.
Court hearing on Wednesday
The ACLU of Pennsylvania argues that the law is unconstitutional and has filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court to that end. An expected multi-day hearing will kick-off in Harrisburg on Wednesday.
State officials have said that the law stands on sound legal footing.
A field operations training session will be held at the headquarters today at 6 p.m. An education session on the law will be held Aug. 1.
Certaine said Saturday that the office will for now be open six days a week between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. As the election nears, it may be operational seven days a week, he said.
“Philadelphia is the center of the known universe; we all know that,” he said, “so it’s our job to lead the way.”