HB 934 Exposed as ‘Modern-Day Poll Tax’
By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue
About 80 labor and civil rights activists, together with a few elected officials, gathered at dusk at the Beaver County Courthouse April 4 for a candlelight vigil. The somber but militant event commemorated the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and protested the current efforts of rightwing PA Republicans to block citizens from voting in 2012.
"They're declaring war on us," said Lynwood Alford of the Beaver County Labor Council and the Minority Coalition. 'Taking away our voting rights is taking away the little power we have in the fight for survival."
Lynwood repeated the refrain several times as he introduced new speakers. The vigil was also sponsored by the Lawrence County Labor Council, SEIU Local 668, and the Beaver County NAACP. The 12 CD Progressive Democrats of America also endorsed the vigil, and turned out a good-sized contingent.
The target of everyone's anger was the passage into law of HB 934 last month, the so-called 'Voter ID Law'.
"We plan to challenge this as a new version of the unconstitutional 'poll tax,'" explained a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union to the crowd. "They claim that a state driver's license or state ID is free. But since the new homeland security rules, you have to have a legal copy of you birth certificate. May people don't have one, and there is a charge for getting one, and you have to appear personally, also a cost.
"Many older people were also born at home, and never had a birth certificate. Also, if you are living in an assisted facility for the elderly, all of your old bills with old addresses are no longer legal backup ID. So this does have all the undue burden of a poll tax."
"Who are the main groups registering new voters", he asked? "The League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and the unions. But now in Florida they want to make it so that if your forms aren't turned in 48 hours, you're up on a felony for voter fraud. One union teacher registered her seniors on a Friday, but Monday was Memorial Day, and offices were closed. So she turned them in the next day. Not good enough, says Florida, they're a day late. Now she's hit with felony voter fraud charges. With this kind of stuff going on, what do you think is going to happen to volunteer voter registration efforts? Make no mistake about it. This is an attack on all of us, especially our unions."
"Our right to vote is precious," added County Commissioner Joe Spanik. "It's an outrage, and we have to fight it with all we've got."
Other speakers included Congressman Mark Critz, Willy Sallis, President of Beaver County NAACP, and Kathy Jellison, President of SEIU Local 668. Kim Villella, a Baden resident running for State Senator against Republican Senator Elder Vogel, who voted for the bill, spoke about the difficulties nursing home residents will have with this new voting restriction.
"Something has to change," said Rev. Kevin Lee, also and IBEW member, at the close. We have to find a way to mobilize the energies of a new generation." As everyone was lighting candles, the NAACP's Mtume Imani followed by recalling her own experiences at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,' then led everyone in singing the civil rights anthem, 'Ain't Going to Let Nobody Turn Us Around." It captured the spirit of the gathering as it dispersed, newly informed and energized.
Eric Hoover, Vice-President of the Beaver-Lawrence Central Labor Council, closed the program by reminding everyone of the importance of standing together.