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Allegheny County black groups focus on offering voter IDs

Tony LaRussa

Representatives from several Allegheny County groups representing the black community said on Monday that they are ramping up efforts to ensure voters have proper ID when they go to the polls this fall.

The Black Political Empowerment Project, or B-PEP, has started sending out voter ID information to “individuals, organizations, agencies and religious institutions,” said Tim Stevens, the organization’s founder.

Stevens and representatives from the Pittsburgh chapter of the NAACP, the Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly and Alleghenians Ltd. held a joint news conference to announce plans to conduct voter ID drives during the months leading up to the Nov. 6 general election.

Stevens called the new law “wretched” and designed to suppress turnout among minorities, young people, people with disabilities and senior citizens.

Supporters of the voter ID law say it will safeguard the integrity of elections and prevent fraud.

The law’s legality was upheld last week by a Commonwealth Court judge. However, it is still being scrutinized by the Justice Department, which has requested Pennsylvania hand over records such as voter databases and lists of licensed drivers who have photo ID.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s top lawyer told Justice officials that its investigation is unwarranted.

While he did not encourage acts of civil disobedience, Stevens said he “wouldn’t at all be surprised if there are physical confrontations in the polling places” if longtime voters show up without acceptable IDs and are directed to cast their vote using a provisional ballot.

“The commonwealth has set up a very bad situation for voters as well as for the poll workers,” he said.

E. Richard Phipps, a member of the Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly and a judge of elections in Penn Hills for the past eight years, said requiring a voter whose ID is challenged to cast a provisional ballot will be cumbersome because it takes “upwards of 10 to 15 minutes” to complete and typically requires the assistance of a poll worker.

“I have yet to have someone come in who knew how to fill one out,” he said.

Celeste Taylor of the NAACP said while material has been developed to help educate voters, “that material means nothing if we don’t hit the streets, knock on doors and make phone calls to make sure our family members, our neighbors and ordinary citizens get the information they need to exercise their right to vote.”

Janet Kelley, a spokeswoman for Corbett, lauded the effort to educate voters.

“We all need to continue our efforts to make sure that everyone who wants to vote has the proper identification to do so.”

Members of St. James AME church in Larimer, which hosted the news conference, has scheduled a workshop on Aug. 30 to educate and register voters.

The Deliverance Baptist Church in Wilkinsburg is holding a similar workshop on Saturday.

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or [email protected].


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