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12 Jul 2013

The Next Voting Rights Movement

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July 12, 2013 Category: Local Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: An estimated, 1,000 African Americans are in line to vote in the Democratic Primary, the first major Southern Election since the 1965 Federal Voting Rights Act. This picture was taken at 7pm (CST) when polls usually close on May 3, 1966 in Birmingham. All in line got to vote.            

(AP Photo)


With another round of court hearings set for Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law, the coalition charged with helping people understand how the law impacts them has changed its name and widened its scope.


By Denise Clay


In 1965, Joseph Certaine, Philadelphia’s former managing director, was an organizer for voting rights in Georgia, making sure that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was observed and all were allowed to exercise the franchise.


So when the Supreme Court decided to strike down Section 4 of that act, the part that required pre-cleared voting law changes for states like Georgia that had a history of disenfranchising voters, Certaine, the operations chief of the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, got angry.


Then as he often does, he got organized… and decided that the organization had to make an important change of mission.


“We were still on the mission of making sure people had voter IDs until June 25,” Certaine said. “When the Section 4 ruling came down, I felt that the coalition should encompass all of the issues of voting rights. This legislation is part and parcel of an attack on voting rights overall. This is personal to me. This is where I came in.”


Thus the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition has now become the Pennsylvania Voting Rights Coalition. The coalition held a news conference on Wednesday at the 1199C Health Care Union building to announce the change and to encourage people to attend a rally in Harrisburg designed to bring attention to the hearings on a permanent injunction to the Voter ID law scheduled to begin on Monday. 


While the coalition, which was technically formed last March, has expanded its focus, the group members, which ranged from the NAACP to labor unions to African American fraternities and sororities, to groups representing seniors, Latinos and others are still united and focused on one thing: making sure that everyone who can vote is allowed to.


How the case being heard next week in Harrisburg goes will go a long way toward either furthering that goal or putting it further out of reach, said J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP Branches and the Philadelphia NAACP.


“All eyes will be on this case,” he said. “The Commonwealth is not prepared to provide IDs to everyone. There are eight Pennsylvania counties that have no PennDot center. There are other counties that have no more than two, and those only issue picture IDs once a week. This impacts voters of color and new citizens. These laws will be resisted by the NAACP.”


Toward the end of maintaining awareness of the case, the NAACP sponsored a rally in the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg on Thursday. Among those in attendance was the organization’s national President Ben Jealous.


Awareness is important because unless a permanent injunction is handed down, the law goes into effect starting with the Nov. 5 elections. While she doesn’t like the law, City Commissioner Stephanie Singer said she’s mandated to enforce it.


But that doesn’t mean that voters are powerless, Singer said. They just have to exercise their power. 


“Voters have the power,” she said. “But you have to go to the polls and vote. During the May primary, 90 percent of all of the registered voters in Philadelphia didn’t bother to vote. You missed the chance to vote and threw your power on the ground. [The Voter ID Law] is just one of a series of laws designed to keep people from voting. If we want to block laws like this, we have to come out and vote.”


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