Could More than 40% of Philly Voters Be Denied the Ballot?

New Orleans  A headline from the Naked City blog by Daniel Denvir in Philadelphia caught my eye:  “A Whopping 43 Percent of Philly Voters May Not Have Voter ID, According to New Data.”  Holy-moly!  No wonder the Republicans think their voter suppression effort in the Pennsylvania legislature, according to their leadership, may have handed the state to Romney in the upcoming election.

The new data seems to have come from the state AFL-CIO and the numbers crunched out this way, according to Denvir:

The new data, received and processed by the AFL-CIO, for the first time includes voters who had PennDOT licenses that have (as of Monday) been expired since Nov. 6, 2011 or an earlier date. If those people do not renew their licenses, the licenses will be expired by at least one year on election day and thus invalid under the new law. And because the AFL-CIO’s voter file (which shows the already-publicized large number of voters with no PennDOT record) is seven months old, it could actually represent an undercount since it does not address whether those who have registered as voters since January have valid ID.

I reached out for Craig Robbins, who directs the work of the community organization, Action United, in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and asked him if this could really be possible.  Craig pulled me off the ceiling since I had blown a gasket before dawn reading this.  Very soberly, he advised:

No-the 18 percent figure that was put out a couple weeks ago after the state actually matched the voter records with the official state issued ID records is closer to the truth but even that is probably a stretch. But whatever it is, it’s suppression and if it stands (I can’t believe it will be allowed to stand) it will have a serious impact.

The 18% figure, which would put it darned close to 1 out of 5 voters pushed out of the polling stations is actually pretty horrendously anti-democratic, too, so it’s hard not to be spitting mad at watching this level of civil-rights-era voter suppression happening right under our noses.  Denvir climbs off the wall himself in his piece and echoes Craig’s point, but also underlines the Republican bait-and-switch of claiming that 1% or less of Pennsylvania’s voters would have an ID problem in voting, which regardless of the numbers is now widely acknowledged, to quote Craig again, that “it’s suppression.”  Clearly no one in PA knows who is on first and what is on second, other than they want to steal an election.

Again, Naked City:

But it is the state’s very inability to determine a final estimate of just how many Pennsylvanians might be impacted by the law that has fueled criticism. Initially, the state said that only 1 percent lacked valid ID. On July 3, that number skyrocketed when the Pennsylvania Secretary of State announced that 758,939 registered voters in the state, or 9 percent, may not have PennDOT IDs. In Philadelphia, 186,830 registered voters were not found in the PennDOT database, or 18 percent.

The Justice Department is now banging on the door of the courts, but this is way out of hand and the clock to the election is ticking so even with a dues ex machina injunction, some voters out there are undoubtedly already dissuaded from voting, so that harm is now irreparable in an election that is now too close to call this November.

Organizations like ACTION United are doing what they can.  When I asked, Craig reports that they are organizing a gang of “Voter Mobilizers.”

Voter Mobilizers!  Training 200 members statewide to do VR, cleanup voter list, educate and ID folks w voter ID issues and finally turn them all out to vote. Big leadership development program for us in Philly and Pitt.

Even hard work like that could be “too little, too late,” if there’s not a full court press by everyone and a judge with some sense that democracy and fair elections are still important in the United States.

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Liberia, Fusion, Comcast, Cox, and Times-Warner

George Kieh, spearheading ACORN International's Liberia project, holding a copy of Global grassroots, and Wade

Philadelphia   The uncharacteristic Spring heat wave was broken by some rain making a predawn walk to Clark Park both invigorating and something of a relief.  After a couple of hours of conversation “catch-up” with Craig Robbins of ACTION United, we met with George Kieh to make plans to build an organization for Liberians in both Monrovia, Liberia, and in the concentrated communities in the United States.

ACORN International’s partnership with George is fascinating, because we are discussing a way that we could both build organization in New Jersey and Pennsylvania among Liberian expatriates which would provide representation, advocacy, and support services to them as well as create financial support for organizing in Liberia itself.  Simultaneously, we are creating the infrastructure and training program to begin building membership based community organization in Liberia itself that we can link in Africa to our organizing in Kenya.  The work follows the plan, and we id good work around Craig’s kitchen table outlining the setps we need to move forward.

On the way to a meeting with the ACTION United staff about our Comcast campaign I finally also understood better the Working Family Party strategy in Pennsylvania as well.  Fortunately they seem to be more aggressively committing to building an independent party and in Pennsylvania they have the added benefit of being able to use fusion in lower level contests like school board races and judicial contests, which could help crystallize support for the party efforts.

For the main event we spent a couple of valuable hours getting to do some face-to-face planning and brainstorming around our joint campaign alliance attacking the digital divide and trying to force the Philly-headquartered Comcast to finally comply with the FCC order in its acquisition of NBC/Universal and provide the $9.95/month plan and access to low cost computers.  We discussed a number of tactical options for wrenching up the pressure in coming weeks.  Not only are there various opportunities for actions, but the work being done by Local 100 with our Head Start employers who are joining our campaign in Houston, Shreveport, and Little Rock to obtain coverage for employees and clients of the program.  Recently these partnerships have brought Comcast back to the table for several meetings in coming weeks.  There was consensus that the campaign now has to also spread to Cox and Time-Warner to see if we can get them to deliver on their commitments and do a better job than the miserable performance Comcast has delivered thus far.  One of the organizers also noticed that Cox is now rolling out a national low-cost plan, which might also provide a partner for us to more effectively lower the digital divide.  Focus, focus, focus seems to be what we need to achieve now, since opportunities abound.

If I been in Philly more a full 24 hours, who knows what we might have been able to get done!

Wade and Craig Robbins, Director of ACTION United

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