My mother today does not live in Pennsylvania. But I thought of her story this weekend when I heard about the story of Jacqueline Kane, who is 81, and who accomplished with her first vote back in the day what my mother could not: In 1952, with her first vote, Jacqueline Kane voted for Stevenson. Kane turned 21 in November 1951. Today, a longtime registered voter, she lives in a nursing home in Pennsylvania. Today, she is one of the people whom state lawmakers say must comply with a new voting law that imposes terrible burdens without providing any measurable benefits. Today, Jacqueline Kane is in danger of losing her right to vote.
THE VOICE OF SUPPRESSION
Last week, Pennsylvania state representative Daryl Metcalfe, the Republican from Butler County who sponsored the dubious law, went on the radio to defend it. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a 4-2 decision, had just decided not to overturn or endorse the new law, but rather to send it back down to the trial judge with instructions to evaluate strictly whether the measure would result in the disenfranchisement of registered voters. Instead of seeing in this cautious ruling a sign of trouble ahead, Rep. Metcalfe doubled down on the ugly premise behind his effort. On radio station KDKA, Rep. Metcalfe said:
don't believe any legitimate voter that actually wants to exercise that right
and takes on the according responsibility that goes with that right to secure
their photo ID will be disenfranchised. As Mitt Romney said, 47% of the people
that are living off the public dole, living off their neighbors' hard work, and
we have a lot of people out there that are too lazy to get up and get out there
and get the ID they need. If individuals are too lazy, the state can't fix that.
Even by contemporary standards -- even in a state where a Republican leader proclaimed publicly a few months ago that the new voting law, by disenfranchising likely Democratic voters, would give Mitt Romney the state -- this was a classless thing to say. For not only was it a slander against an entire class of Pennsylvanians who are too poor, or too disabled, or too old to have the new state-issued photo identification. It also was a shot directly at people like Jacqueline Kane and her family, who concluded that maybe now the fight against voter suppression in Pennsylvania was their fight, too.
JACQUELINE KANE'S BURDEN
On Friday, Jacqueline Kane's daughter, Robin, decided enough was enough. She had been working with other family members to ensure that her mother was not disenfranchised by the Republican law. She had been working diligently, in fact, trying to apply old mismatched paperwork to the new bureaucratic requirements, when she heard Rep. Metcalfe call her mother lazy. Here is part of what her email to the legislator said:
My mother lives in
Topton, PA and is lawfully registered to vote, as she has been since 1951. But
because of your voter suppression law, she is currently unable to vote. She
no longer drives and her license is more than a year past expiration. She
hasn't traveled outside the country in decades, so her passport is past
expiration. The facility where she lives is a state-approved provider of elder
care services, but they do not issue photo IDs to residents.
For the past two
weeks, my sister and I have been trying to help my mother gather the
appropriate documents to get the newly required photo ID. The education
campaign had inaccurate information and the rules keep shifting, making it
difficult for me to understand and it would have been impossible for my elderly
mother to do this without assistance.
First, VotesPA and
PennDOT websites said she would need to get a non-driver's photo license. To do
so, she would need her social security card; an original birth certificate with
a raised seal; two proofs of residency; an application; and an oath that she
had no other form of ID. My sister and mother spent two days looking for her
birth certificate from 1930. They found my dead grandmother's birth
certificate, plus ration cards from World War II, and lots of documents of my
father's service during that war. But not her birth certificate.
I returned to the
websites to learn that even without a birth certificate, she might be able to
get the photo ID if the state Department of Health could confirm her birth.
However, my mother was born in NY, not Pennsylvania. So, it turned out,
this solution didn't apply to her. Instead, I was directed to seek a new birth
certificate from the state of New York. Just when I thought we couldn't
possibly get this done in time for her to vote, I learned that there is a new
option for people exactly like my mom: the new, Department of State photo id
requires her to have her a social security card or number (which we found);
proof of residency; an application; and an oath. And it still requires that my
82-year-old mother will travel by bus to a PennDOT office and hope that she has
the stamina to wait in multiple lines to complete the process to get a photo ID
that she needs for only this one purpose, ever. But she is determined to do so,
if she is able. And she will vote against anyone who sided with you in this
effort to suppress legitimate votes.
Later, Robin Kane explained to me how the family intends to try to meet the burdens imposed upon them by Representative Metcalfe and his Republican colleagues:
I live in DC and my sister works full-time and
can't take my mom to do this. Of course, my mom no longer drives (or she'd have
an ID!) So she will go by bus with other seniors in her elder care facility to
the local PennDOT office. We will hire a health aide to accompany her on this
trip because she gets easily winded since her strokes, but she doesn't use a
While we believe, after weeks of research, that we have the correct
documentation, we have read stories of hours-long waits and misinformation
among PennDOT workers. Because this new law makes no sense to my mom, she's not
in a good position to advocate for herself if the workers are unfamiliar with
the brand new "Dept of State Voter ID." She's also in a unique situation
because she was born in NY, not PA, like most everyone else at her facility. So
other people from her facility will likely need to be in a different line, and
she'll be alone with her aide.
What this really means is that Jacqueline Kane is one of the lucky ones. She has a family that has the means to be able to help her in this fashion. But think of all the other elderly people out there, who won't have a health aid with them, or who don't have access to a bus, or who don't live in elder-care facilities where such opportunities exist. Those people aren't lazy, either. And yet they clearly face disenfranchisement if this law is permitted to stay in effect. It's an Orwellian scenario: To ensure voting integrity in Pennsylvania, the Republicans have destroyed voting integrity there.