93 Year-Old Wheelchair-Bound Woman Gets Photo ID In One Day After Losing Initial PA Voter ID Lawsuit

Pete Winn | October 4, 2012 | 6:02am EDT
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For the first time, Philadelphia resident Viviette Applewhite actually got a state-issued photo ID from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

It was an important moment that went practically unnoticed when it it took place in August, according to Horace Cooper of Project 21 and Justin Danhof, general counsel for the National Center for Public Policy.

“Applewhite is 93-years-old, does not drive, is confined to a wheelchair, lacks many personal identification documents, and yet she managed to get herself -- with no assistance from the ACLU -- to her local PennDot office, where she was issued an ID,” Danhof explained.

“If she can obtain an ID, everyone in Pennsylvania can and should,” he added.

But that’s not half the story, according to Cooper.

Applewhite is more than just an elderly woman who had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. -- she was actually the lead plaintiff in the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) original lawsuit against Pennsylvania's voter ID law.

What’s more, she got her ID just one day after Pennsylvania Judge Robert Simpson initially upheld Pennsylvania's voter ID law – the same law that Simpson put on hold Tuesday.

“She was the ACLU’s poster child --and she got an ID,” Cooper, a conservative Washington, D.C.-based attorney, told

(Photo: Philidelphia Inquirer)

In July, Applewhite had testified on the stand that she had voted in every election since 1960, while ACLU attorneys tried to claim that she would be “unable to obtain photo identification required by Pennsylvania's Photo ID Law” and that “she will no longer be able to vote beginning in November.”

But Applewhite, who took a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter along with her to the DMV, reportedly had no problems at all getting her photo ID.

The Pennsylvania Voter ID law isn’t as onerous as the ACLU would have people believe, according to Cooper, a former law professor at George Mason University in Virginia.

It allows citizens to use eight different forms of identification to prove their identities.

Ironically, Applewhite probably didn’t have to make the long trip to the DMV at all, Cooper said.

“She actually did have a form of ID that would have allowed her to vote,” he told “She did not have a state-issued equivalent to a driver’s license, but at the care facility where she’s been living, they had an ID card for her that they used to make sure that she was getting her medicines, and all that – and she actually could have used that.”

Cooper, who is a spokesman for the Project 21 National Network of Black Conservative leaders, says Voter ID laws simply require voters to show an acceptable form of picture ID before they can vote.

But first with the lawsuit, and later with a media campaign called “Let Me Vote,” the ACLU has tried to scare blacks and others into believing that Voter ID laws represent a return to Jim Crow-era tactics designed to keep people from voting, Cooper said.

Horace Cooper of Project 21. (C-SPAN photo)

“The ACLU should be ashamed that it dragged Applewhite into court rather than just offering her a ride to get an ID,” Cooper said.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania did not provide comment to for this story. But in a statement originally issued in August, the group said: “We are delighted for Ms. Applewhite. She has been trying to obtain PennDot ID for years and now she will be able to vote in November after all.”

The ACLU statement also claimed that there are “thousands of Ms. Applewhites out there” who still don’t have ID -- and may not get to vote.

But Cooper questions the ACLU claim, saying credible estimates place the number of people in Pennsylvania who may have difficulty getting a picture ID in the “hundreds, not thousands.”

Moreover, by not having an ID already, he said, those people who are “on the periphery” already face many more difficulties in life besides voting.

“These are people who operate on the margins,” Cooper said. “They can’t buy alcohol, they can’t buy cigarettes, they can’t fly, they can’t check out a book from the library, they can’t get enrolled in a college, they can’t go and visit a high school campus – or do any of the things that require ID.”

Meanwhile, the liberal lawyers of the ACLU may have failed on legal merits to block the Pennsylvania law back in August, but the ACLU did not give up, continuing its efforts by taking an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“They went back to court, modifying their arguments – saying, ‘Well, the state agency issuing the IDs – the DMV -- isn’t moving with enough speed, so we don’t think people will get their IDs in time (for the election),’” Cooper said.

On Tuesday, the ACLU hit pay dirt with that argument. The same judge who originally upheld the law in August issued a ruling blocking it from taking effect.

Both Cooper and Danhof, however, say that the judge had it right the first time – the Voter ID law wasn’t a “pernicious, negative assault” on people’s rights nor “some kind of deliberate attempt at suppression.”

“Any time you have government agencies that are tasked with tackling a challenge like issuing IDs, the standard of review isn’t whether they are competent or not – the standard is whether there is some intentional effort to use them as a way to thwart people’s rights,” Cooper said.

Said Danhof: “Judge Simpson should have held strong to his prior convictions and the rule of law, rather than bending to the race baiters and fraud.”

He added: “The ACLU's case relied on flawed data, racial rhetoric and plaintiffs who should have been excused since they can all obtain photo IDs.”

Plaintiffs, it would seem,  like Viviette Applewhite.

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