Marian Berkley has managed to make it through her first 83 years without a state-issued photo ID.
But after last week's ruling in Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court upholding a new law that will require voters to present certain government-approved IDs at the polls in November, Berkley has decided she must get one.
Berkley, a retired factory worker, found herself sifting through personal documents with voting rights activist Karen Buck to get in order the vital records she'll need to acquire a state ID so she can vote.
Most of Berkley's necessary documents were in place -- a birth certificate noting that she was born on a farm in Delaware, a Social Security card and utility bills in her name.
She still needs to track down her marriage certificate to certify that her last name changed. Berkley could run into trouble if someone at the state ID office decides to quibble about her first name being spelled differently on her birth certificate than it is on her Social Security card, said Buck, the executive director of the SeniorLAW center.
"Really?" asked an exasperated Berkley, who has been homebound in recent years after multiple hip operations and other ailments. "How much more do I have to do to prove who I am?"
Voting right activists railed against Judge Robert Simpson's refusal to block implementation of the new law, which proponents say will help prevent voter fraud and opponents say will disproportionately affect elderly, young, minority and low-income voters.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit have filed for an expedited appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In the meantime, organizers are turning their attention to helping voters acquire the IDs they'll need to vote if the law stays on the books.
Will it matter?
In Philadelphia, where voting rights activists say as many as 186,000 eligible voters don't have IDs, labor unions, the NAACP and others have begun canvassing neighborhoods where the state's data show the problem is most prevalent. Opponents have slammed the GOP-backed law as a partisan effort to drive down turnout among groups that tend to vote Democratic. They say the state has not provided any examples of voters misrepresenting themselves or deception at the polls in making their case.
Backers of the law say it is necessary to prevent voter fraud. Patrick Cawley of the Pennsylvania attorney general's office argued during last month's court proceedings that having a photo ID is a necessity of modern life. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's administration has tried to reinforce its argument that the law is not overly burdensome on the poor by vowing to provide free IDs for the indigent.
"Voter disenfranchisement is only a risk if we don't turn our attention and efforts toward helping every voter in Pennsylvania comply with this new law," state GOP chairman Rob Gleason said in a statement. "Regardless of partisan affiliation, the time for scare tactics and bickering is now over."
The Obama campaign has integrated voter ID education in its volunteer training and voter registration efforts but has steered away from turning it into a major campaign issue.
Most polls show Obama leading Romney in the Keystone State. Pennsylvania Department of Transportation data suggest that white senior citizens -- a group that leans to Romney -- are among those who could be most affected by the voter ID law. There are about 1 million more Pennsylvanians registered as Democrats than there are Republicans, according to Pennsylvania Department of State data.
Obama campaign volunteers registering voters outside a subway station in north Philadelphia last week asked voters whether they had a valid photo ID when signing them up and offered those who didn't literature on how to get one.
"I don't agree with the law, but I don't think it's going to be a big issue," said Obama volunteer Leslie Wars, 55.
Feeling less American
For many of those who don't have an ID and face complications to secure one, the process seems humiliating and daunting.
Marsha Ellis, 56, who was born in South Carolina but has lived in Philadelphia for most of her life, has been trying for years to get a birth certificate, so she can get a government-issued ID. The health department in the county where she was born has told her it has no record of her birth.
At the least, Ellis said, she'll try obtaining Pennsylvania's soon-to-be-issued voting-only card, so she can cast her ballot for President Obama in November.
She bristles at being forced to get an ID that will be good only for voting.
"This whole thing has made me feel like less of an American," Ellis said.
Most Americans support voter ID requirements. Almost three-quarters of respondents strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that voters should be required to show a government-issued ID when voting, according to a Washington Post poll conducted last month.
But more than half of those surveyed said they had heard either not much or nothing about the new law.
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