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Lead plaintiff, 93, in Pa. voting case gets ID - but countless more still out of luck

Ninety-three-year-old Viviette Applewhite was the poster child for the effort to fight Pennsylvania's controversial voter ID law. Until Thursday. That's when she was finally issued the state ID she needs to vote.

"You just have to keep trying," Applewhite told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "Don't give up."

Applewhite has been the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups seeking to block the law, which could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters—around 18% of registered Philadelphia voters, by one estimate—who lack ID. She appeared on PoliticsNation in May to spread the word (watch above). 

A judge declined to block the law Wednesday, though the plaintiffs say they plan to appeal.

Thursday afternoon, Applewhite, who is wheel-chair-bound, took two buses to get to a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation center, where she presented various documents, including a Medicare card. The name on her birth certificate didn't match the name on her other documents, and she had no Social Security card, which under the law should have prevented her from receiving an ID. But she got one anyway.

State officials say clerks have been directed to use common sense in applying the law, and Applewhite's experience shows they're doing so. But lawyers challenging the law suggested her status as the lead plaintiff in the case, and the widespread media attention she's received, might have had something to do with the decision to give her an ID.

"We are delighted for Ms. Applewhite," said Witold Walczak, legal director of the state ACLU in a statement. "She has been trying to obtain PennDot ID for years and now she will be able to vote in November after all." But, he said, there are "thousands of Ms. Applewhites out there who still don't have ID. It would be nice if PennDot relaxed the rules for all of them."

And even if it did, that would only help those voters who are aware of the law and make an effort to get an ID in advance. It would do nothing for the voters who show up at the polls on November 6 without a photo ID, expecting to vote as they always have.

Earlier this month, Lean Forward's Evan Puschak and Alex P. Kellogg traveled to Pennsylvania to talk to some of those who might be affected by the law.

The lawyers say it's unclear whether Applewhite will continue to be a part of the suit now that she has an ID. But that's not something she's concerned about right now. 

"I'll be able to close my eyes and go to sleep at night, not worry about this mess," she said.