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 State Government Committee. It’s part of a broader effort by state Republicans to address concerns over ballot security.
On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Voting Rights Protection Act (House Bill 1300) advanced from the House State Government Committee, a bill which would “enhance Voter ID,” according to the House GOP.
“Election integrity has been eroded and it needs to be restored,” said Ward (R-Blair/Cumberland/Franklin/ Fulton/Huntingdon).
The senator said she constantly hears from constituents who want to know why they need identification to buy alcohol, tobacco, cold medicines and even get a COVID vaccine — but not to vote.
Presently, Pennsylvania voters are only required to show identification the first time they vote at a polling place. Senate Bill 735, the measure written by Ward and backed by Delaware Valley Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Bucks/Montgomery), asks voters to decide if government-issued identification should be required every time a ballot is cast.
“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,” said Ward.
“I was proud to vote YES today (Tuesday) on SB 735 which would create a constitutional amendment to mandate proof of Voter ID for all voters in Pennsylvania,” said Senator and bill sponsor Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Adams/Franklin/Cumberland/York) in a tweet.
The language must be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions, meaning the earliest the proposed amendment would reach voters for consideration is May 2023.
“I know that’s a while off, but the governor has been saying that he would not sign any kind of voter ID law,” said Ward. “This allows the people to decide.”
The Pennsylvania Democratic Party is not onboard.
“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,” said Brendan Welch, communications director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. “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, and Pennsylvanians will not stand for it.”
Gov. Tom Wolf’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment. However, Wolf’s input or acceptance is not necessary, as constitutional amendments in Pennsylvania do not need the governor’s approval.
“Allowing the voters to decide how they want to best secure their elections is not some nefarious plot as some would have you believe, just as asking people to offer verification each time they vote is not an attempt to keep people away from the polls,” said Ward. “These are commonsense measures designed to restore confidence in our election system – a confidence that has been seriously eroded during the last several election cycles.”
The bill will now be considered by the full Senate. A companion measure from Rep. Jeff Wheeland (R-Lycoming) is in the House. “I urge everyone to rise above that and not fall victim to outside influences trying to stir emotion,” said Ward.
Pennsylvania would not be the first state to have a constitutional amendment of this sort.
“In 2011, voters in Mississippi passed a ballot amending their constitution to require a person to submit government-issued photo identification in order to vote,” wrote Ward and Mastriano in a May 11 memorandum to all senators. “Missouri also approved a ballot question in 2016 amending its constitution to require a form of identification, which may include a valid government-issued photo ID, to vote.”
The senators went on to say that, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in November 2018 voters in Arkansas and North Carolina approved ballot measures to amend their state constitution to require photo voter identification.
“People do not feel secure about our elections and about their votes and this is something that would be very helpful to gain back some confidence in our voting system,” said Ward. “So, this is something very common sense.”