If a state Senate version of House Bill 1318 passes and becomes law, not only will ex-offenders become ineligible to vote during their parole or probation period, but every registered voter would be required to produce a photo ID to enter the booth. This would make voting much more complicated for everyone, especially senior citizens and college students, say voting activists, as well as alienating ex-felons who are trying to work their way back into society.
"People who've been excellent voters all their lives don't need these kinds of changes now," said Tim Stevens, head of the Black Political Empowerment Project, at a press conference held Dec. 7 to urge senators to vote down 1318. "People coming out of prison should be embraced, not disgraced."
The outdoor press conference was accompanied by freezing winds that prevented anyone from being long-winded. Stevens didn't need to say much, though, because B-PEP has been speaking out about this bill since at least September (see News Briefs, "More May Be Barred From Elections, Even After Bars Removed," Sept. 22). He also had help. A number of community organizations have banded to form the Coalition of Concerned Citizens, who are working throughout southwest Pennsylvania to drum up opposition against bill 1318. They are worried that a Dec. 13 meeting of the Senate's State Government Committee could push the bill onto the Senate floor for a vote this week.
Forcing poll workers to verify voter-registration-card information against photo-ID information would make for longer lines and frustrated voters who may just go home, or stay home, instead of voting, said Stevens.
"If this law was a car, it would be a lemon," said Laura Staniland, a freshman at Duquesne University. Staniland said she goes to concerts, nightclubs and sporting events to register college students to vote, but this bill could spoil her efforts. College students, she said, move around much more than the average person.
As do some seniors, said George Moses of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Alliance of HUD Tenants.
"I am a senior citizen living in the Hill District, and seniors like me have been displaced all over the city," Moses said. "What would we do if we had to get a new ID every time we were moved somewhere?"
"This would be a setback to us as we continue to try to rehabilitate ourselves back into society," said Taili Thompson, an ex-offender who is the community coordinator for Allegheny County's One Vision One Life violence-prevention organization. (See this week's "Ex-Context" column, "No Ballot Initiative," page 22.)
Also protesting the bill was ACORN activist Celeste Taylor, who a year ago was appointed to Gov. Ed Rendell's Pennsylvania Election Reform Task Force. Taylor noted that the task force's recommendations have yet to be implemented. As she concluded recently in an e-mail, "What a cruel irony that one year later ... our Pennsylvania state government only sees fit to focus on helping many of its citizens not vote."