New law in Pa. keeps Amish from casting their vote

TEMP ORARY April 20, 2012 0

On March 14, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed a new law, joining Pennsylvania with Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee and Georgia as having the strictest voter identification requirement in the United States. Republicans are advocating the law as a way to avoid voter fraud. However, Attorney General Eric Holder strongly opposes the law, believing the law discriminates against minorities, including the Amish.

In today’s society, forms of identification are crucial to acquiring cash, confirming travel arrangements, owning a firearm or simply renting a video. Therefore, the Amish are accustomed to needing an ID, but until this law they did not have difficulty acquiring one. For the past decade, a member of the Amish community could simply present a letter from his bishop stating that he was in good standing with his church and a non-photo ID would be administered. However, with the new voter identification law, the Amish and other religious groups opposed to posing for photos are required to complete an 18 question open-ended survey with short essay responses. Dr. Donald Kraybill, distinguished college professor and senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, described the questionnaire as “onerous and complicated,” stating: “I myself would not vote if I had to fill out an 18 point survey. It’s just ridiculous.”

Some applications have been denied because the applicants left questions blank. Some questions included: “What is your religion?”; “What are the main beliefs of your religion?”; “How many people are in your congregation?”; and “Do other members of your family share the same beliefs?” “[The survey] was poorly conceived,” Kraybill said.

Moreover, Kraybill expects revisions to be made to the application process for non-photo IDs. The National Amish Steering Committee, a political lobby group, plans on meeting with local representatives and senators to discuss implementing a shorter questionnaire or another process. Ideally, the committee would like to grant the Amish permission to continue submitting letters from their bishops for non-photo IDs. Kraybill suggests using a “yes or no” or “fill-in-the-box” type of ten question survey. “There should be a much simpler way to find out if this person is in good standing with the church and is an authentic Amish person,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has already issued nearly 4,000 non-photo IDs to people with religious objections. However, Pennsylvania is home to 61,000 Amish.

What will this mean for this year’s election process? Kraybill said that generally less than 10 percent of adult Amish people vote. Lancaster County alone hosts 30,000 Amish, but over 50 percent of those are under 16. Therefore, there are only 1,500 prospective Amish voters.

Furthermore, Kraybill is not concerned that the new law will have an impact on the presidential election. The Amish tend not to vote for presidential candidates because they cannot conscientiously select the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. However, when voting, the Amish tend to vote Republican because of the conservative values and worldview the group holds.

“It is good to respect [the Amish community’s] beliefs, but it’s also good to keep it strict. Yes, it’s tough; otherwise people would find a way around it,” Robert Graham, sophomore and student of Kraybill, said. Overall, the state is concerned with people attempting to claim to be religious for tax deduction and other political benefits, when they are not religious at all.

For the April 24 primary election, voters who do not present photo identification will be allowed to cast a provisional ballet. This vote will only be counted if the person provides a valid ID to county election officials within six days of voting. This is a test run to work out all the problems prior to the Nov. 6 presidential election, where photo identification is mandatory to vote.

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