Courthouse protestors oppose Pa.'s Voter ID law
BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Mike Schirra of Penn Forest Township, holds a sign protesting the new voter ID legislation in front of the Courthouse Annex in Jim Thorpe.
Fifteen people gathered in front of the Carbon County courthouse annex in Jim Thorpe on Thursday to protest Pennsylvania's new Voter ID law.
Among them was decorated Vietnam War veteran Mike Schirra of Penn Forest Township, who held an American flag-bedecked poster reading "Stop Voter Suppression."
A disabled veteran, Schirra said his names are written differently on his birth certificate, which reads "Michael Joseph Schirra," and voter registration card, which is under M.J. Schirra.
"There's a question as to the legality of me voting," he said. "I have used that card to vote since the 1980s."
Terry Whiteman, head of the Carbon County Labor Chapter PA, which organized the rally, said the law is not needed.
"What's the use of rushing (the law) through when you have zero cases of voter fraud," he said. "All it does is disenfranchise people."
The Republican-controlled state Legislature passed the law to deter voter fraud. No Democratic lawmakers were in favor of the law, which was signed in March by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
Proponents of the law believe it will prevent voter fraud. Opponents argue it is an effort to suppress voter registration.
"We need photo identifications to do most things throughout our day, like enter a workplace and cash a check at a local bank. The people I represent overwhelmingly support the concept of one vote per person and upholding that through a photo identification requirement," said state Sen. David G. Argall, R-29.
Republican state Rep. Doyle Heffley, who voted for the bill, concurred.
"If you cash a paycheck at a store, open a bank account or take a flight, you're required to show valid proof of identification, so it makes sense to do the same when it comes to voting, an earned right for every legal citizen of the United States," he said. "Although voter fraud cases haven't been recorded in Carbon County, it's a problem that has been seen in heavy doses across the state, especially as identity theft cases have become more and more common."
Wednesday's rally was one of several throughout the state to protest the law, scheduled to go into effect for the Nov. 6 General Election.
The protests coincided with the first day of Commonwealth Court hearings on a lawsuit aimed at derailing the law. The suit was filed by the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union and others on behalf of 10 voters who believe the law is unconstitutional and would block the right to vote of many elderly and poor people.
Both those who filed the suit and the state Attorney General Linda L. Kelly's office have stipulated they are unaware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud.
The U.S. Department of State is also questioning the law's legality.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people rallied against the Voter ID Act at the state capitol.
At the heart of the protest is the concern that the law would disenfranchise the poor and elderly, those most likely to not have valid driver's licenses or photo identification, and who may have difficulty getting to a state Department of Transportation license center to obtain the document.
Pennsylvania's Department of State said Friday it will offer a special photo ID card for voters who are unable to obtain birth certificates or other documents for non-driver IDs issued by PennDOT. The new card is offered free of charge and is valid for 10 years.
Schirra said that process may be too much for some veterans to handle.
"There are a number of veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These people are not inclined to go sit in a PennDOT center to get a new ID card to go vote," he said.
Among those attending the rally was Ron Rabenold of Lehighton, a Democratic candidate for the state representative seat currently held by Heffley.
"I applaud any effort to prevent voter fraud," he said. "But what concerns me about this bill is the lack of foresight for the people of Carbon County who, through no fault of their own, may be denied their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote."
Rabenold cited the case of an elderly Nesquehoning woman who does not drive and worried about how she would get to a PennDOT center. In another case, a young woman who recently married is concerned because voting records have not yet caught up to the name change on her driver's license.
He also cited House Majority Leader Mike Turzai's statement to the Republican State Committee on June 25. Turzai, citing a list of GOP accomplishments, said "Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done."