"Trying to track [her missing marriage certificate] down, you need an intrepid lawyer and maybe an investigator. She's a long way from having everything she needs to get the photo ID necessary for her to vote."
-- Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, about lead Voter ID lawsuit plaintiff Viviette Applewhite of Germantown
Viviette Applewhite of Germantown may be able to vote in November's general election after all.
Applewhite, the lead plaintiff in a recently filed lawsuit seeking to overturn the state's controversial Voter ID law, received her birth certificate in the mail last week. On her birthday, no less.
Now, the newly-minted 93-year-old is one step closer to obtaining valid photo identification which would enable her to vote in November.
Starting with this year's presidential election, all Pennsylvania voters will have to present photo identification before casting their ballot in state and federal races.
"I had a fit when I saw it," said Applewhite inside her Wayne Avenue apartment on Wednesday.
Replacing stolen documents
Applewhite had struggled for three years to replace the document after someone stole her purse as she shopped inside a supermarket. The bag contained a number of important papers, including her birth certificate.
The Germantown High School graduate said she sent money to the Pennsylvania Division of Vital Records for the document, but never received anything in return.
"I never got my money, I never heard nothing from them, so I just gave up," she said.
It wasn't until she saw a flyer from Face to Face — a hospitality-focused organization housed inside St. Vincent de Paul Church — announcing that residents could stop by and get help filing for a birth certificate that things started to change.
Applewhite jumped at the opportunity. Turned out it was the last day the assistance was being offered.
"When I saw that on the wall, I got up with my clothes on and went straight over there," she said.
Birth certificate not enough
Applewhite is not, however, out of the woods yet. She still needs a social security card before she can head over to PennDOT and apply for a non-driver's photo ID. That document was also stolen that fateful day at the grocery store.
Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which filed the suit in Commonwealth Court along with the NAACP, said Applewhite will also have to provide proof of a name change, which was the result of a marriage and subsequent adoption. (Applewhite's birth name is Brooks.)
Typically, a marriage certificate is the evidence, but Applewhite doesn't have that document, according to Walczak.
"Trying to track that down, you need an intrepid lawyer and maybe an investigator," he said. "She's a long way from having everything she needs to get the photo ID necessary for her to vote."
A burden on women
Walczak noted that Applewhite's predicament illustrates the extra burden the law places on women, who are among the populations that opponents of the measure fear will be disenfranchised. (Seniors and college students are similarly at-risk.)
Proponents of the Voter ID law maintain that it will help cut down on instances of voter fraud at the polls.
Through her spokesman Ron Ruman, Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, whose duties include overseeing Pennsylvania elections, has said she feels confident the law will be upheld.