This week, Pennsylvania will most likely become the 16th state to pass legislation requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.
“I think the Republicans have been very clear that they want to regain the White House and this is one of their strategies to do that. I see this as nonsensical, not something that is a high priority in Pennsylvania,” said State House Rep. Jake Wheatley. “The fact that we have so many issues of critical importance, the fact that we’re spending two three days on this subject matter, is comical to me.”
H.B. 1523 would require voters to show a photo ID such as a driver’s license, student ID, county or municipal card or ID from a personal-care home. Voters who do not have photo ID when they arrive at a voting center would have six days to present election officials with an acceptable ID.
The legislation was originally passed in the House of Representative in the summer of 2011. It then went to the Senate, where it was passed last week with a vote of 26-23, with three Republicans voting against it.
“This is a simple, common-sense measure to protect the integrity of the voting process, the very foundation of democracy,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi. “In today’s society, we show identification routinely—to buy prescription drugs, to travel on planes and trains, to open a bank account, to get a marriage license, to cash a check and even to get into some buildings. This measure will significantly increase confidence in the fairness of Pennsylvania elections without causing a true hardship for anyone.”
Now the bill has gone back to the House for approval after the Senate made a series of amendments. Proponents of the bill say it will reduce voter fraud. The House voted on the bill March 13 after Courier deadline.
“There’s no evidence that there’s a necessary need for this bill and quite frankly when we talk about the plight of citizens voting rights, we should be doing all the things we can to encourage more people to participate in the process,” Wheatley said. “For all those that believe this is a way to reduce fraud, why didn’t we do something around the absentee ballot process?”
Documented cases of voter fraud involving absentee ballots have appeared around the nation, but this legislation does not address these issues. Opponents of the bill say requiring photo ID will have no impact on voter fraud.
“We’re opposed to it because many surveys that have been done, show it is not necessary to have a voter ID because there is no voter fraud connected to people impersonating other folks,” said E. Richard Phipps, communications director of the Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly. “The Bush administration had a multi-year investigation into voter fraud and they found there was no evidence that there was a serious problem with voter fraud.”
Phipps said the study, which looked at voter fraud from 2002 to 2007, found nine possible occurrences of voter fraud related to people impersonating others. Of those nine only one had any validity. Phipps said in the same period of time there were 353 deaths by lightning.
“In instances of fraud, the Voter ID bill wouldn’t be a means to stop it. There are no examples of voter fraud where people are impersonating others,” Phipps said. “The voter fraud they found involved absentee ballots. The bottom line is none of these examples would be affected by voter IDs.”
Before the legislation was passed in the Senate, the state senators made a number of amendments. These included allowing students to use their college ID when voting and allowing voters to use state IDs that have been expired for no more than one year.
“In every case, the people they’re requiring to have voter IDs are people who traditionally vote Democrat,” Phipps said. “For instance students, don’t normally have the ID they are requesting, however the amendment to the bill will now accept student ID. Senior citizens a lot of times don’t drive so since they don’t have a driver’s license, they don’t have voter ID. They have now amended the bill to include licenses they have been expired for a year.”
Despite the amendments, Phipps said acquiring an ID will present a hardship for many people since in order to get a state ID, citizens have to present their official birth certificate with a raised seal and travel to driver’s license/photo ID centers. WPBPA has decided to launch an initiative to help people get to these centers.
“Anyone needing a photo ID, we’re going to help them get there to get this done,” Phipps said. “We’re going to mobilize to get those who are registered to vote, to get them a photo ID.”
As a long time advocate for voter rights, the Black Political Empowerment Project is also launching an initiative to raise awareness about the voter ID bill.
“The cost of requiring voter ID in each and every election is enormous based on information from other states. It has been estimated that Pennsylvania could expect to pay out about $7-$10 million,” said B-PEP Chairman Tim Stevens. “People would be forced to, in a sense pay a ‘poll tax’ to vote to cover cost of new ID, unless the Commonwealth of Pa covered such cost. However, such a requirement would be in violation of the federal law prohibition of poll taxes. Up to now, comparing a voter’s signature has worked rather well. We see no convincing argument to change a system, which has worked reasonably well.”
On March 12, President Barack Obama blocked similar legislation passed in Texas in May 2011. The Obama administration said the decision was a result of data showing more than 300,000 Hispanic voters did not have a driver’s license or state issued ID. The White House has made no indication of how this decision will impact legislation in other states.