ACLU Loses Pennsylvania Voter ID Case, But Lead Plaintiff Viviette Applewhite Gets Her Voter ID Anyway (Just By Applying)

PennsylvaniaStateFlagWSo the ACLU lawsuit wasn’t needed after all.

A day after Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson’s decision to uphold Pennsylvania’s voter ID law over a challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed it would disenfranchise black, Latino and elderly voters, the lead plaintiff in the case, 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite, got her ID after all.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has the story, and it’s a delight:

The day after a judge upheld Pennsylvania’s new voter identification law, the lead plaintiff in the suit seeking to block the law went to a PennDot office and was issued the photo ID card she needs to vote.

Nothing has changed since Viviette Applewhite, 93, testified in July. The law stands. She still doesn’t have a driver’s license or Social Security card. The name on her birth certificate is still different from the name on her other documents – all of which, under the law, should have barred her from getting her photo ID.

But at precisely 1:16 p.m. Thursday, she got it anyway.

“You just have to keep trying,” said Applewhite, who uses an electric wheelchair. “Don’t give up.”

State officials called it an unplanned exercise in what they’ve been saying for weeks: Clerks behind counters at Pennsylvania Department of Transportation centers can take age and other factors into consideration when granting exceptions to the list of documents the law requires, licensing bureau director Janet Dolan said.

“PennDot has said all along that they would work with folks on a case-by-case basis,” said Ron Ruman, a Department of State spokesman.

Call it the Applewhite rule.

Word of her success threw her lawyers into something of a tizzy. A leader of a civil liberties group challenging the law promptly cast doubt on the state’s motives.

“PennDot was flexible providing the ID without Mrs. Applewhite having the documents required by law. We wonder if that would be the case for someone who wasn’t a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit and the subject of a lot of attention in the press,” said Penda Hair, codirector of the Advancement Project.

Even so, an Inquirer reporter who accompanied Applewhite to the PennDot center on Cheltenham Avenue in the city’s West Oak Lane section saw no sign that the clerk recognized her or realized she was a major figure in the battle over the law.

Applewhite – who rode two SEPTA buses to get to the center – showed the clerk a Medicare card from the 1990s, its edges frayed from years of being pulled out of her pocketbook. It listed her Social Security number, but only the last seven digits were visible. A state Department of Public Welfare document showed her name, signature, and Social Security number – but all in her own handwriting. Other documents showed her street address in the city’s Germantown section. She had no documents verifying that the Viviette Virene Brooks listed on her birth certificate was the same person as the Viviette Applewhite applying for an ID…

…Applewhite had vowed to keep fighting as the ACLU prepared to appeal Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr.’s ruling. The lawyers for her and the other plaintiffs say it’s unclear now whether she will remain part of the suit – which claims the law would bar her from exercising the voting rights she’s enjoyed for more than half a century…

Read the entire Philadelphia Inquirer story here.

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