You know you’re in a fledgling campaign office the moment you step off the street and into one of the plainest buildings in Germantown, a mostly black Philadelphia neighborhood that contains several Colonial landmarks. Along garish, peach-colored walls are maps of every inch of the city: council districts, wards, divisions, recreation centers. Mismatched tables sit empty, waiting for soon-to-be-installed phones that volunteers will use to call number after number. In one corner of the back office, there’s even a double megaphone ready to perch atop a van and spread the message. Rather than touting a candidate, though, this campaign’s volunteers will be spreading news that they hate: Hundreds of thousands of registered voters in Philadelphia, and hundreds of thousands more across the state, are in danger of losing their voice in the November election. Welcome to the world of the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, made up of 140 organizations—churches, labor unions, civic groups—which began training volunteers in July. The group’s job is to let voters know that, thanks to a law passed in March, they will have to carry a government-issued picture ID to the polls to ensure that their vote counts. The coalition will also help voters who lack the proper ID to acquire one—a process that is, in some cases, time-consuming and complicated.
Most of the controversy over the law has focused on its political impact: Will it give Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney an edge in Pennsylvania, since the law overwhelmingly affects African Americans, students, the elderly, and low-income voters who mostly vote Democratic?
But the coalition, which prominently plasters “Non-Partisan” on banners all over the office, is concerned with something larger. “The greatest fear would be that people are disenfranchised, become discouraged, throw their hands up and say, ‘There’s nothing I can do about this, voting doesn’t matter anyways,’” says lead organizer Joe Certaine, a prominent voting-rights activist and the former managing director of Philadelphia, the city’s second-most powerful office. “Because then, these people will be elected by fewer and fewer constituents. They will represent a much narrower constituency,” he adds. “And a few people in Pennsylvania will determine what happens to all of Pennsylvania.”
Full Article: Defenders of the Vote.