Voter identification bill passes in PA Senate, draws debate
If passed, the bill will take effect for this November's elections
March 11, 2012, 10:01 pm·
The voter identification bill that passed in the Pennsylvania Senate last week is drawing heated debate among policy makers and voters.
The Senate passed a bill on Mar. 7 requiring voters to present valid photo ID at the polls to be eligible to vote. HB 934 passed by a margin of 26 to 23.
The bill is now returning to the House for a concurrence vote to approve the Senate’s amendments to the original House bill. It also seeks a signature by Governor Tom Corbett, who has indicated his willingness to sign the bill. If passed, the bill would take effect for the November elections.
Valid forms of identification include those issued by commonwealth and local governments, the federal government, accredited colleges and universities in the state, municipal employers, the military and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
The bill originated in and passed through the House and then was amended in the Senate. One of the amendments allows Pennsylvania college IDs to be valid, a measure that Penn Democrats supported.
“For students who are rightfully citizens of Pennsylvania, they wouldn’t be able to vote because they wouldn’t be able to use student IDs at the poll,” said College sophomore Andrew Brown, Penn Dems president.
Advocates of the bill believe that showing photo ID at the polls will prevent voter fraud.
“With IDs, it makes sure you’re voting once and you’re not voting in different places,” said College freshman Anthony Cruz, College Republicans political director. “Who wouldn’t want to preserve the integrity of the voting system?”
College sophomore and College Republicans Vice President Arielle Klepach added that showing a photo ID would not create much of a burden for a “significant majority of the population.”
Opposers of the bill, however, dispute the idea that voter fraud is an issue.
“The bigger issue is that a study at the Brennan Institute [at the New York University School of Law] shows that you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than you do being impersonated at the polls,” Brown said. “To make a bill that doesn’t really solve a problem of society is to me fundamentally wrong.”
The bill also hopes to decrease cases of voter fraud by impersonating dead people.
However, Ellen Kaplan, Committee of Seventy vice president and policy director, does not believe this is a prevalent problem. The committee is a nonpartisan, nonprofit government watchdog based in Philadelphia.
Impersonating a dead person would require knowing which voter roll the dead person was on and getting past local poll workers, who often work at the same polls year after year and would know if someone died, Kaplan said.
“Because the benefits are so low and the potential costs are so high, it is unlikely that there is substantial voter fraud by impersonation,” wrote political science professor Marc Meredith in an email. “Moreover, it would be much easier to commit this form of fraud using absentee ballots.”
Opponents of HB 934 also point to the possibility that the bill could disenfranchise groups such as minorities, senior citizens and some students.
“Statistically, minorities and low income are in larger numbers around big cities, so they may not have licenses and may not have passports,” Kaplan said.
Political science professor Roger Smith added that these groups tend to vote Democrat. “The political rationales for this law and others like it in other states — to reduce turnout among groups that for the most part vote Democratic — are far more evident than any public good rationale,” he wrote in an email.
Although the Senate added an amendment for Pennsylvania college issued student IDs to be valid, Pennsylvania residents who go to school out of state might still not be able to vote if they do not have a Pennsylvania driver’s license or passport, Kaplan added.
HB 934 has a provision that permits voters to acquire free and valid photo IDs at PennDOT. This amendment was added in the Senate revision.
According to Cruz, this provision ensures that the bill won’t disenfranchise voters who cannot afford a photo ID.
“You have to go into the [PennDOT] office in order to get the ID, but it’s not like there’s an office on every corner,” Kaplan said. People with lower incomes might be less inclined get the ID card from PennDOT, she added.
Klepach said voters without photo ID probably would not vote regardless of voter ID laws.
“Previous research suggests that voter turnout doesn’t change very much after voter ID is required,” Meredith wrote.
Kaplan claimed that the bill was a deterrence to voting.
Proponents still claim that any potential costs are far surpassed by the benefits.
“The chances that it would prevent voter fraud would outweigh any barrier to voting,” Klepach said.
Penn Dems worked heavily on fighting the bill earlier this year.
“Our board is going to discuss how we want to move forward and if we think it’s an issue we can fight,” Brown said. He added that because the Democrats are a minority in both the House and the Senate, they probably won’t have the ability to change very much.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 32 states are debating legislation to pass new voter ID bills, or to strengthen or amend existing laws.