Voting in Philadelphia: An Anecdotal Report

A judge in Pennsylvania has ruled that the state's new Voter ID law is unconstitutional.

I had the privilege of voting a number of times in inner city Philadelphia, so I have some experience in the matter. I lived in a highly populated urban area, and I was a distinct racial minority. As in, there were exactly three white males living on my street. My precinct was not far at all from the infamous polling place where, in 2008, members of the New Black Panther Party stood outside wielding police batons. The Obama Justice Department ruled that, nope, no voter intimidation there. 

Voting was always an interesting experience. No ID was ever required. All I needed was to tell the poll worker my name, and I was allowed to cast a ballot. The official Democrat party stance on Voter ID is, of course, that requiring identification will disenfranchise people who are unable to provide such IDs. I find the presumption that black people or other minorities are incapable of obtaining or providing identification to be, well, incredibly racist. And I have no earthly idea why the black community puts up with such an offensive party line. In my neighborhood, at least, they all seemed to have driver's licenses; they needed them all the time. They couldn't possibly have housing, either owning or renting, without an ID. They couldn't buy a pack of Newports (the preferred brand, it seemed) or the ever-popular Philly blunts without an ID. But we are to believe that it would be an undue burden to provide an ID to engage in one of the most important civic responsibilities.

But the "No ID" thing wasn't the most amazing thing about voting in Philadelphia. Oh, no. The most amazing thing is that there was always a person standing immediately outside the precinct doors handing out a remarkable piece of paper. It had red and blue lettering, and looked very official. Across the top was written "Official Democratic Ballot." The document provides the marching orders. There is no indication that it is a partisan document. The slippery nomenclature itself disguises the fact. It is not "Official Democrat Ballot." It is "Official Democratic Ballot." The former is a technical party name; the latter is a generic term: as in, we live in a "democratic" society. Moreover, it is called a "ballot." It is no such thing. A ballot is a voting instrument. This is an advertisement. Calling it a "ballot" gives the document the veneer of being something "official." Quite confusing, for the unsuspecting. The document clearly tells the voter what to do: go into the booth and press the number to the right of the following names. The names of Republicans, to state the obvious, do not appear on this document. 

In the photo I'm including here it is even more amazing because it was printed for the purposes of the Democrat primary, and I took it off a website complaining that Barack Obama's name does not appear on it! The publishers of this document favored Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and instructed voters to vote for Clinton. They even helpfully underscore that "You may take this ballot into the voting booth with you."


Let me tell you what I really think, as I'm known for beating around the bush: this is a political tactic that steals my breath in its condescension. Not only are you ignorant people not smart enough to get a government-issued identification; you're too stupid to know how to vote. So take this handy cheat-sheet into the voting booth, and carefully follow the instructions, crafted in some boardroom by your betters. I don't know why the black community tolerates being treated like ignorant sheep. It is time for them to rise up and say, enough!

This document is on the hazy fringes of legality, with probably enough plausibility to make it technically legal. I happen to know that the manner of distribution is flatly illegal, since the law requires party workers to remain a considerable distance from the precinct doors. This was always handed to me as I literally entered the door.

If any intrepid reporters are interested in following up on this, I can give you a tip. Go to Fisher Park in the Olney section of Philadelphia on the morning of November 6, 2012, and you will find somebody handing out crisp, newly printed "Official Democratic Ballots" and handing them out to the voters right outside the doors. Mitt Romney's name will not be on it.

And who knows? You might even run into New Black Panther thugs wielding batons.

Brian Mattson