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President's Corner

Democracy Turned Upside Down

AARP Foundation Litigation challenges voter ID laws

(Editor's Note, Oct. 2: A Pennsylvania judge today blocked the state's voter I.D. requirement from going into effect before Election Day after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the judge to further review the request for a preliminary injunction. AARP Foundation Litigation Senior Vice President Stuart Cohen stated:

“AARP filed amicus briefs in the Pennsylvania courts urging the courts to look closely at the evidence establishing the devastating impact this law will have on hundreds of thousands of the state’s older residents who lacked, and are unable to obtain, the documents needed to secure a valid photo ID card. We are pleased that the court issued the injunction so that all citizens will continue to be able to cast their ballots.”

Read Jo Ann Jenkins’ original column below.)

After voting in nearly every election in Pennsylvania for the past 50 years, Viviette Applewhite, 93, will have to stay home this Election Day. Ms. Applewhite marched with Dr. Martin Luther King to support his efforts to bring civil rights to Southern blacks. Now her own right to vote is threatened: She doesn't have and can't get the government-issued photo ID required under Pennsylvania's new voter ID law.

See also: AARP asks Ninth Circuit to uphold voter ID ruling.

Voter ID laws have been springing up in many states, and AARP Foundation Litigation (AFL) is busy challenging these restrictive laws.

Supporters of voter ID laws claim they will cut down on voting fraud, which seems a bit disingenuous. In Texas, for example, CBS-TV found only 62 cases of alleged voter fraud among the more than 39 million votes cast in recent elections — a percentage of .0001. Fewer than 25 of the 62 involve alleged in-person voter fraud.

In fact, we have just learned that Pennsylvania will not introduce any evidence of in-person fraud at the trial challenging the law. Why? The state has no record of any investigation into or prosecution of in-person voting fraud in Pennsylvania, and no knowledge about in-person voter fraud in other states.

Indeed, voter ID laws are more likely to keep eligible U.S. citizens from voting in person, especially if they are elderly, minority or poor. Under the laws, they must produce passports or driver's licenses to vote. For those who have neither, the states claim they will provide a "free" photo ID. To get that ID, though, voters must show a certified birth certificate in their legal name or their naturalization papers.

And, while the state photo ID is free, it costs voters $8 to $25 to get their birth certificate. If you're among the 52 percent of women who changed their name when they married, you have to get a copy of a marriage certificate or divorce decree. These cost money, too.

Although the 1965 Voting Rights Act outlawed requiring people to pay to vote, in effect that's exactly what the new voter ID laws are doing. AFL's amicus briefs don't call for absolving voters from having to provide any identification — we all support election integrity. The problem is requiring photo IDs that many voters do not have and that will be difficult and expensive — if not impossible — for them to get. According to the latest report from the Brennan Center for Justice, 18 percent of people 65 and above, 25 percent of voting age African Americans, and 16 percent of voting age Hispanics don't have a government-issued photo ID.

Next: What Pennsylvania residents are up against. »

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Find the most recent cases in which AFL has advocated in courts nationwide for the rights of older persons, and filed AARP’s amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs that help courts decide precedent-setting cases.

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