Pennsylvania State Senate Passes Voter ID Bill: Civil Rights Advocates Concerned

HARRISBURG – Today, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed a bill to require voters in the state to show certain photo identifications before their votes can be counted. The measure passed the state chamber by a vote of 26-23. Pending state House action, the bill may soon be on Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk for signature and implementation.

The bill would make Pennsylvania the 16th state to require a voter to show photo ID, and the concept has support from the Republican-controlled House and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

But Democrats intensely oppose it, as do the AARP, labor unions, civil liberties advocates and the NAACP, and accused Republicans of working to suppress the votes of the elderly, minorities, the poor and the disabled ahead of a presidential election. Republicans pointed to the wide use of photo IDs for things like prescription drugs or boarding airplanes and public polls that support such a requirement.

“With new technology and the fact that people use photo IDs for just about every aspect of daily life, it’s a very small step to require that in the electoral process to ensure that people presenting to vote are the people they claim to be,” Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi told an Appropriations Committee hearing on Monday. “It is not the end of Western civilization, as some people claim this to be, and it’s not a vast right-wing conspiracy, as some people claim it to be.”

Democrats suggested the bill was an un-American and illegal encroachment on the constitutional right to vote _ “Joe McCarthy would be so proud of us right now,” Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, told the committee _ and they questioned why it is so important when there’s scant evidence of voter fraud.

“It certainly is a vast, right-wing conspiracy, and I’m not suggesting that anybody around the table is necessarily part of it, but I think this bill is fundamentally contributing to a xenophobia,” said Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny. “I think it’s contributing to this notion that there’s this big voter fraud out there, and that is just not the case.”

The NAACP has also expressed deep concern over today’s decision.

“Voting is a fundamental constitutional right, and registration and participation must be simple, accessible and efficient. Ensuring election integrity for the 21st century requires meaningful coordination between states and voters, not against them,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “This coordinated attack would disenfranchise those who demonstrated the most zealous participation in the 2008 Presidential Election: people of color, women, blue-collar workers, students, seniors, and naturalized immigrants.

On Monday, Republicans added to the bill an amendment that would allow poll workers to recognize county and municipal government IDs besides other government-issued photo IDs, some expired government IDs and IDs issued by accredited Pennsylvania colleges and universities and nursing and personal care homes.

Voters also would have to write their addresses and allow poll workers to verify their signatures.

The Republican-controlled House last year approved a bill that would have allowed government IDs only, and a spokesman for House Republican leaders could not say whether the chamber would support the Senate’s changes.

Republicans insisted that no one will be turned away from a polling place. Anyone who doesn’t have the required ID could cast a provisional ballot before being allowed six days to get an acceptable ID and go to county offices to show it to election officials, they said.
The Department of Transportation would be required to issue an identification card at no cost to anyone who applies and swears that he or she has no other proof of identification allowed under the law for voting purposes.

Under current Pennsylvania law, people are required to show identification only when voting in a polling place for the first time, but a photo ID is not the only kind allowed. Acceptable forms of ID can include a firearms permit, a current utility bill, a bank statement or a paycheck as long as they have a name and address, while photo IDs can include a student or employee ID. A poll worker can still request that a voter show identification at any time, however.
___

Associated Press contributed to this story