Face to Face Legal Clinic
Photo: Kimberly Paynter/for NewsWorks
Face to Face is a 17-year old Pennsylvania nonprofit located in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Run by lawyer Veronica “Niki” Ludt, the organization’s free Legal Center provides a monthly Birth Certificate/Credit Report Clinic. While most of us would have no problem locating our birth certificate or producing a driver's license or other identification, indigent clients have often lost their documents or never had them in the first place. The Face to Face Clinic is worthy of our attention, given its potential for replication in other voter ID states.
Once they are trained, the Center's volunteer law students run the Clinic with Niki’s oversight, conducting intake and assisting clients in preparing applications for birth certificates and other documents to secure legal identification. Since establishing its birth certificate program in 2008, The Face to Face Legal Center has represented more than 500 adult clients in obtaining birth certificates.
Of course, in 2012 the Clinic served to address another critical issue: identification for voting. Due to Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, which was in effect for approximately six months and is likely to continue in 2013, the Birth Certificate Clinic helped to ensure that Northwest Philadelphia voters weren’t disenfranchised at the polls. Niki stated that the Clinic saw a marked increase in attendance during those six months.
As we all know, bureaucratic policies can be convoluted and nonsensical. For instance, many of us who are lawyers and members of the PA Voter ID Coalition were periodically confused by the evolutionary interpretations of that state’s voter ID law. Here’s another example: to secure a replacement social security card requires the applicant to present a photo ID. Face to Face clients are requesting a new social security card because they need an ID! As you can imagine, low-income individuals – those traditionally without power – can be intimidated by this whole process and have difficulty in advocating for themselves with governmental authorities.
Face to Face's personnel and volunteers subscribe to its philosophy of "reaching across the table" to recognize and acknowledge the common humanity they share with their guests and clients, many of whom have been treated as invisible, sometimes for their entire lives. According them the dignity to which every person is entitled ensures that the Face to Face mission is fulfilled.
Campus Vote Project
The Campus Vote Project (CVP), launched in 2012 as a project of the Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN), helps college students by working on college campuses to implement specific programs that will empower students with the information they need to register and vote. The goal is to break down barriers to voting that disproportionately impact college students, including voter ID requirements. FELN is a national, non-partisan advocacy organization whose mission is to remove obstacles to registration and voting for traditionally underrepresented constituencies and improve overall election administration through administrative, legal, and legislative reform.
Voter ID laws differ as to whether a student ID or other college-generated documents are acceptable. Changes to ID requirements affect out-of-state students who lack an in-state driver's license, those who live in dorms that do not provide utility bills, and others. As colleges and universities are uniquely situated to help, CVP provides a Best Practices Guide for campus administrators. CVP staffers have conducted about two dozen webinars and presentations, encouraging administrators to get information to students about what ID they need, issue stickers with expiration dates for student IDs when needed by a state's law, to issue a zero-balance utility bill and the like - and to commit to a robust distribution campaign. CVP has encouraged colleges to send the roster of, or otherwise a letter confirming, students' names and their student-housing addresses to county boards of election where proof of residency is required to vote, e.g., North Carolina's one-stop early voting. Of course, CVP's message through earned media and advertising also includes the reminder to bring your voter ID when you engage in early voting and on Election Day.
CVP provides some terrific information such as a toolkit that contains several guides, from organizing an election awareness campaign, to integrating voter information into a school’s website, to making sure students have the right voter ID. Also, check out CVP's blog and FELN's student voting section, which includes student voting guides for 41 states and the District of Columbia.
CVP partners and otherwise works with many national, state and school-specific student organizations as well as civic and election protection alliances. For instance, CVP and FELN have partnered with the National Campus Leadership Council and others to create the Campus Vote Challenge. CVP has targeted around ten schools in each of its 15 target states. CVP has distributed palm cards with essential state-specific GOTV information, including voter ID details, which are being distributed by partners around the country. The CVP palm card below is being distributed by partner groups in Pennsylvania.
League of Women Voters of Philadelphia
The Philadelphia League of Women Voters' Voter Advocates program is an example of the kinds of effective efforts VoteRiders is assisting and promoting. These are trained volunteers who help voters navigate the PennDOT (Pennsylvania's version of the DMV) maze, smoothing the process and counseling citizens trying to clear the final hurdle to the ballot box. Voter Advocates assure that voters understand the documents they are asked to sign and clerks' instructions, and help the PennDOT personnel interpret ID documents and regulations properly. VoteRiders is producing the Voter Advocates training video, to help communities in other voter ID states create their own Voter Advocates program; our media outreach includes those traditional and social media journalists who have been covering the voter ID issue.
The League of Women Voters encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. LWV does not support or oppose any political party or candidate but does — and always has — taken stands on issues its members have studied to create in citizens a sense of responsibility for its nation’s problems. Through research and advocacy, LWV seeks to encourage the informed citizen who actively participates in government. For additional information about the League of Women Voters of Philadelphia’s Voter ID efforts, visit www.phillyvoterid.org.
The SeniorLAW Center in Philadelphia has been protecting the rights of older Pennsylvanians since 1978 through legal representation, education and advocacy. When Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law passed in March 2012, the Center immediately stepped into action to ensure that Pennsylvania’s older adults would have the proper documentation to vote in the April primary election, in November, and beyond.
The Center became a member of the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition as part of a concerted effort to ensure all eligible Pennsylvania citizens can vote. Along with other Coalition members, the SeniorLAW Center began holding training clinics for volunteers and pro bono attorneys to understand the law and be able to help citizens apply for a copy of their birth certificate.
On August 3, 2012, the SeniorLAW Center, along with Face to Face, held its first Voter ID Legal Clinic in which attorneys from the Center, Face to Face, and local firms provided free legal services and counseling to voters of all ages to help get birth certificates and other required documentation to obtain their voter ID.
The Center is planning additional Voter ID legal clinics in the coming weeks and also offers assistance at their office. Individuals can register for an appointment by calling the Pennsylvania SeniorLAW HelpLine at 1-877-727-7529. Attorneys interested in volunteering their time and services can contact Karen C. Buck, Esq., SeniorLAW Center Executive Director, at [email protected].