News Column

Nuns Take Issue With Pa. Voter ID Law

Sept. 27, 2012

Sarah Hofius Hall, The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

For decades, Sister Jeanne Gallagher, I.H.M., taught young children about government and the importance of voting.

As the November election nears, the 86-year-old nun and retired teacher fears the state's controversial voter ID law will keep her and other senior citizens from having their say in who leads the country.

Sister Gallagher, and 23 other nuns from the Our Lady of Peace residence, the retirement home for the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary congregation, lack the identification needed to vote in November. Another 11 nuns recently received state-issued identification cards. One 95-year-old sister had to wait four hours at the Driver Licensing Center in Dunmore.

But these nuns say while the state's voter identification law is an inconvenience to them, they have people who will drive them to the center. They also have other sisters who will gladly help them find the paperwork needed for the card.

They worry about the senior citizens who do not have that help.

"I think it's very, very unkind, unfair and ridiculous," Sister Gallagher said of the law, which earlier this month state Supreme Court sent back to the Commonwealth Court for a judge to determine whether voters would be disenfranchised by the law.

That would be the case, the nuns said on Wednesday, in the room at the Our Lady of Peace center that serves as their ward's polling place. For years, the nuns, some with walkers and some in wheelchairs, have only needed to make it to the room off the lobby to cast their votes.

The law requires anyone voting this November to produce a photo ID with an expiration date. The ID can range from a driver's license to a U.S. passport. Supporters say the law is necessary to prevent voter fraud, while opponents point out that there have been no documented cases of in-person voter fraud and the process of obtaining an ID can be difficult and is intended to discourage people from voting.

The congregation's peace and justice committee has sent a letter to Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson and the state's Supreme Court justices, asking them to overturn the law.

The sisters represent "thousands and thousands of elder Pennsylvanians facing a similar exclusion from their lifelong participation in the democratic process. If the Voting Act of 2012 is maintained in the courts, the seniors will have a serious violation of their rights visited upon them. It must not be allowed to stand," the sisters wrote.

One of the acceptable forms of identification is a card issued by a care facility, but because the OLP is not licensed by the state, the cards are not valid, said Sister Eleanor Mary Marconi, I.H.M., assistant administrator at OLP.

Sister Marconi has acted as an advocate for her fellow sisters, accompanying them on trips to the Driver Licensing Center in Dunmore.

Some of the 24 still without ID cards just need to get to the center, but others are missing a key document -- a birth certificate or Social Security card -- required for the ID to be issued.

Sister Pauline Kelly, 78, received her card after a two-hour wait. Her non-driver's license photo ID, which she used for air travel, had long-expired.

She cannot remember an election in which she did not vote, and she worries about the seniors who may live alone who cannot find a ride so they may obtain an identification card.

"The elderly people should have the ability to vote," she said.

Sister Marconi said she will work to get her fellow sisters the required identification until, hopefully, the courts rule it is not needed.

"These sisters want to vote," Sister Marconi said.



Source: (c)2012 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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