Pennsylvanians could one day determine whether voters must show identification every time they cast a ballot. A bill from state Sen. Judy Ward to do that via a constitutional amendment has been approved by the Senate.
“I have a responsibility to ensure that voters trust the election process,” Senator Ward told the Delaware Valley Journal.
Ward (R-Blair/Fulton/Cumberland/Franklin/Huntingdon) said she’s heard from constituents who wonder why they need to show identification for everything from getting married or buying alcohol to adopting a pet or renting a hotel room but not to vote.
“I was elected to serve as the voice of my friends and neighbors in Harrisburg,” Ward said.
Presently, Pennsylvania voters are only required to show identification the first time they vote at a polling place. Senate Bill 735, which was approved by a bipartisan vote of 30 to 20, asks voters to decide if some form of verification should be required every time a ballot is cast. That includes when they vote by mail.
“Everyone who voted by mail-in or absentee ballot in the last election had to supply proof of identification in order to receive their ballot,” says Ward. “This isn’t an any additional burden, (and) asking voters to decide if requiring identification every time voters go to the ballot box will build on that and restore trust in the election process.”
The language must be passed by two consecutive legislative sessions, meaning the earliest the proposed amendment would reach voters for consideration is May 2023.
Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh/Northampton) voted with Republicans as did Sen.John Yudichak (I-Carbon/Luzerne).
“As the prime sponsor of legislation (Senate Bill 538) to allow the citizens of the Commonwealth to use the direct ballot initiative process to make their voices heard on important issues before our state government, it is my belief that allowing the citizens to vote on issues of importance to them, such as voter ID, should occur,” Boscola said. “Last session, I offered an amendment to a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow citizens to be given the chance to vote on amending the state Constitution for the use of direct ballot initiatives, but my amendment was tabled and while I would prefer that the voters have the ability to initiate issues such as this being put on the ballot, I voted in favor of SB 735 to give the voters the ability to make their voice heard.”
However, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party does not agree with the plan from Ward.
“Harrisburg Republicans are running with Trump’s Big Lie and a disinformation campaign designed to kill voter confidence in our elections so they can once again restrict voting rights,” said Brendan Welch, communications director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. “The last time Harrisburg Republicans tried to force stringent voter ID requirements, the courts struck them down because they hindered voting access for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians — especially elderly, disabled, and low-income residents.
Welch adds that Pennsylvanians will not stand for this effort.
Senator Ward sees things differently. Pointing to a recent poll by Franklin & Marshall College, Ward says 74 percent of Pennsylvanians who responded were in favor of requirements that voters show photo identification compared with 25 percent opposed.
“Nationally, that number climbs to 80 percent in support of some sort of identification to vote and 18 percent opposed, according to a Monmouth University poll,” says Ward.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, is already on record as saying he will veto any bill that he sees as suppressing voter access.
“I will always uphold our democracy,” Wolf told reporters at a press conference this month. “I will stand up for your freedom to vote, and I will not allow bad actors to put up barriers to voting.”
Still, constitutional amendments do not need the governor’s approval, and Ward said allowing Pennsylvanians to decide is the best approach.
“Proposing that voters show verification not just the first time, but every time they vote as a constitutional amendment, allows Pennsylvanians to take the lead in how they want to further secure our election process,” she said.
Forms of photo identification currently approved by the Pennsylvania Department of State include Pennsylvania’s driver’s license, a U.S. passport, a student ID or an employee ID.
Voter without a photo ID, currently, can use a non-photo ID that includes name and addresses such as a current utility bill, bank statement, and paycheck.