On March 15, 1965, President Johnson stood before Congress and declared, “And we shall overcome”:
Every device of which human ingenuity is capable, has been used to deny this right. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists and, if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name, or because he abbreviated a word on the application. And if he manages to fill out an application, he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of state law.
Well, it’s back to the future where there are no uniform standards. Faceless clerks and election officials are making up the rules on who is eligible to vote. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
State officials said PennDOT clerks could now take age and other factors into consideration and grant exceptions to document requirements on a case-by-case basis.
Another source of confusion, for people trying to figure out if they already have the ID they need to vote: seemingly minor differences between names on photo ID cards and names on voter registration lists.
The new law addresses this issue, saying the name on a voter’s photo ID must “substantially conform” to the name on the roll of registered voters, which is duplicated in poll books distributed to every polling place on Election Day.
But the law does not offer any further explanation of what “substantially conform” means - leaving that to election officials at various levels to figure out on their own.
And as reported, election officials’ level of understanding of the new photo ID requirements varies from county-to-county:
Renee Cohen, a Democratic committeewoman in Blue Bell, Montgomery County, wanted to identify Democrats in her precinct who might need help.
She called Montgomery County voter services about two of them: a woman who had used the name “Judy” on her voter registration form, but “Judith” on her driver’s license, and a man who used the initials “C.J.” on his registration, but “Charles J.” on his driver’s license.
Amanda Witman, a spokeswoman for the Department of State, said both situations described by Cohen “would be ‘substantially conforming,’ in our opinion. That’s what we would recommend to the county election directors. But at the end of the day, it is their decision to make.. . . As we interpret the law, the county election directors do make the final decisions on those issues for their respective counties.”
Cohen got a different answer, however, when she called Montgomery County voter services.
I have monitored elections in Ethiopia and Angola, and conducted democracy training in Central Asia. The arbitrary way in which Pennsylvania’s voter ID law is being implemented would never pass the “free and fair” standard to which emerging democracies are held.
With a sustained public awareness campaign, we shall overcome voter ID. But freedom isn’t free. Please make a donation to the Cost of Freedom Project.