More than 200 attend voter ID forum at Germantown Senior Community center

“Don’t tell me I can’t vote.”

That was the mantra that more than 200 Philadelphia senior citizens shared aloud at a voter ID information session held in Northwest Philadelphia on Monday.

The “Senior Week 2012” event included a panel discussion with voter ID experts and an opportunity for seniors to check if their current ID qualified them to vote.

It wasn’t all political business, though. There were also health screenings, line-dancing gatherings and chair Zumba at NewCourtland Education Center at Germantown Senior Community, a nonprofit service, nursing and education center for seniors.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

NewCourtland also offered seniors a chance to sign-up for free transportation to and from PennDOT to get their identification cards.

“Many seniors have issues with transportation and it’s hard for them to find accommodations,” said Angela Brown, spokeswoman for NewCourtland, who says the group was fiscally able to provide the transportation service.

Obtaining an ID: An added burden to seniors

That service is exactly what Doris Berris has been hoping for. The North Philadelphia resident has endured several heart attacks and had triple bypass heart surgery.

Last month, Berris, who uses a mobility scooter to get around, said she organized a group of seniors to travel to PennDOT at 8th and Arch streets, only to find her group couldn’t be accommodated.

“They said that we had to come back another day,” said Berris. “It was a struggle for us to get down there. Half of us use mobile scooters, wheelchairs and walkers to get around.”

Berris says that when she told PennDOT workers that she wanted to acquire the “free” ID cards, they told her they weren’t aware of the Pennsylvania Election Code policy.

Its website states that the “$13.50 fee for acquiring an Identification Card will be waived for individuals completing the Oath/Affirmation Voter ID form.”

“Voting is a right and people shouldn’t be treated like they don’t exist,” lamented Berris.

Learning the new law

The event’s panel included representatives from the Department of State, PennDOT and the Philadelphia Commissioner’s Office who discussed the law’s requirements to the crowd.

One issue that kept coming up from the group was the question of obtaining a birth certificate.

“It’s not unusual for people in their 70s to not have a birth certificate,” said state Sen. Shirley Kitchen, who sat with the crowd.

Kitchen noted that there are people that reside in Philadelphia who were born in other states, which makes it more time-consuming to track down a birth certificate.

Concerns about the lack of accessibility to voter information before a major election were also voiced.

“The average person doesn’t even know about this law,” said Janet Hogwood of Germantown. “If they don’t have the information in time, they’re out of luck.”

Margaret Lloyd of Mt. Airy says she attended the event for “assurance” that her knowledge of the new voter ID law is correct and to gain more insight about it.

“I want to learn as much as I can,” said Lloyd. “I think this law is absurd and is meant to discourage people. It’s aimed at minorities and people who won’t be informed or who don’t know how to get informed.”

When it comes to one of the main arguments for the law, voter fraud, Eleanor Richardson of Germantown said she hasn’t had an issue with voter fraud in her 20 years as a poll worker.

“There really wasn’t a large issue with voter fraud in Pennsylvania,” said Richardson. “I’ve never had a problem.”

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal