Elections (Archived)

Should Pa. lawmakers implement voter ID requirements?

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives Commonwealth Media Services

State lawmakers will soon be taking up a raft of election reforms this month after holding a series of hearings throughout the year on election procedures and administration. The push comes as some conservative states, such as Florida and Georgia, have overhauled their own voting laws following the 2020 presidential election cycle.

In the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s upper chamber, Senate lawmakers have released a lengthy report with recommendations on how to improve elections in the Keystone State, while House lawmakers have already started to advance a 147-page bill that would make sweeping changes to the state’s Election Code. 

House Bill 1300, sponsored by House State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, would bring in-person early voting to Pennsylvania in 2025, allow curbside voting for disabled individuals and establish voter ID requirements for every voter in the state. Senate Republicans have also advanced a constitutional amendment that would establish ID requirements in the state constitution.

And while constitutional amendments would circumvent Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk, the Democratic governor has already pledged to oppose any bills that contain voter ID requirements or would make voting more difficult. Grove, however, has defended his legislation, claiming that it would make elections simultaneously more accessible and more secure. 

“No one can get turned away at any poll in the United States. This is a requirement of federal law. If you show up at a poll in Pennsylvania or any other state, you have the right to vote and there's procedures put in place to do that,” Grove said, adding that his bill, dubbed the Pennsylvania Voting Rights Protection Act, “perfectly weighs the balance of access and security.”

City & State reached out to several experts about the potential impacts of a voter ID requirement: Salewa Ogunmefun, executive director of Pennsylvania Voice; Andy Hoover, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Pennsylvania; and Kadida Kenner, executive director of The New Pennsylvania Project. The following responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Pennsylvania lawmakers have expressed interest in implementing a voter ID requirement. What impacts would this have on voter access?

Salewa Ogunmefun: I think it’s important to make clear that after all the hours of testimony we have heard in all of these hearings, none of the election directors and election officials who work in Pennsylvania said, “We need a voter ID requirement.” The biggest area of consensus among voters, election officials, and other experts was the need for pre-canvassing and e-poll books, not voter ID. We all care about the integrity of our elections, but the keys to improving that system include enhancing our vote-by-mail process, modernizing the Election Code, and adequately funding elections.

Andy Hoover: To clarify, some Republican lawmakers are interested in voter ID. The last time they tried this, we showed in court how hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians would lose their right to vote with a burdensome ID requirement. The fact is that these politicians cannot produce any evidence of a need for voter ID. In the court case in 2012, the commonwealth had to admit that it had no evidence of in-person voter impersonation.

Politicians might get away with lying on the floor of the House and Senate. They cannot lie in a court of law.

Kadida Kenner: We've seen this in Harrisburg before, when elected officials attempt to implement restrictive voter ID laws for their own political gains. It puts our democracy at risk. Less than 10 years ago, Speaker Mike Turzai made it very clear how he viewed restrictive voter ID laws, and exactly who those laws would impact. Turzai said the quiet parts out loud in 2012 as he boasted that voter ID laws would give the 2012 election to Mitt Romney. Today, Republican lawmakers are again repeating Turzai's sentiments. We have lawmakers who will not accept defeat and the accurate results of our elections. They are putting our democracy at risk.

Pennsylvania already has a voter ID requirement. Voters in the Commonwealth need to have an ID to register to vote, request a mail-in ballot, and cast their ballots when voting for the first time. Proposed changes, disguised as "election integrity" are simply a retaliation against voters for casting their votes and accessing their ballots. HB 1300 will do more harm than good, and will not make voting easier. Our votes are sacred.

How would a voter ID law impact minority communities and communities of color?

Salewa Ogunmefun: Republican, Democratic, and Independent voters expect that the people making changes to election rules aren’t trying to rig the game, but instead protect our democracy by ensuring our election laws are nonpartisan and make voting safer, more convenient, and more accessible to all. Most BIPOC voters are going to see a voter ID bill as yet another attempt to keep Black and Brown people in this state from voting. And, to add insult to injury, a voter ID law would make their taxes go up. The associated cost and implementation burdens with voter ID alone are huge. (For example, Texas spent $2 million on voter education when it implemented voter ID and Indiana spent more than $10 million over three years on free IDs. That’s funding that legislators could allocate to address other issues in the state.) Voting is a fundamental right, and we should be working to remove barriers to participation with the goal of increasing accessibility and voter participation. 

Andy Hoover: Research shows that there are particular communities that would be disproportionately impacted by a strict voter ID requirement, including Black Pennsylvanians. Other voters who would be harmed include people with disabilities, senior citizens, transgender folks, people living in poverty, college students, and urban residents who rely on public transportation. Perhaps Harrisburg Republicans want to make it harder for these citizens to vote. 

The ACLU of Pennsylvania believes that barriers to voting should be minimal while maintaining security. Under our current system, the counties have the capability to verify a voter's eligibility. Another barrier, like a voter ID requirement, is unnecessary.

Kadida Kenner: These communities have seen elected officials attempt to put up barriers to silence them and their votes before. Record numbers of young voters and voters of color made their voices heard in 2020. Any current attempts to overhaul our election code will further risk disenfranchising marginalized communities. Whenever electoral strides are made in communities of color or other minority communities, such as the people in the disability community or LBGTQ communities, attempts by the right-wing elite to suppress votes and disenfranchise voters soon and strategically follow.

No matter our race, background or zip code, most of us believe that democracy works best when it works for everyone. Unfortunately, we have a handful of politicians who want to set targeted communities back and make it harder for them to vote, especially Black, young and new Americans. The impact restrictive voter ID laws have on our daily lives is even greater for marginalized communities already struggling coming out of a global pandemic and needing their lawmakers to deliver economic support, restore our infrastructure, and deliver healthcare for all. Communities of color need leaders who will govern in their interests and make the promise of our democracy real for everyone.

With lawmakers so focused on election security, are there any alternatives to voter ID that you would suggest they consider to build confidence in Pennsylvania's election systems?

Salewa Ogunmefun: Voter ID is about trying to exclude some voters. Modernizing Pennsylvania’s election in a holistic way is the right way to make our process more secure and more accessible. Instead of making it hard to vote, Pennsylvania should allow early, in-person voting, same-day voter registration and the establishment of vote centers, and guarantee paid postage for every voter who utilizes mail-in voting. Small change is better than no change at all, so lawmakers really need to act on issues where there is wide agreement and broad bipartisan consensus:

  1. Funding electronic poll books.
  2. Increasing poll worker pay and providing more resources, in general, for county election operations.
  3. Allowing counties to start processing mail-in ballots two weeks before Election Day, so that voters have a chance to correct any simple mistakes and so that we can know who won the election hours – or days – not weeks, after the election is over.

Andy Hoover: Voter ID is a solution without a problem. The 2020 election was safe and secure, and the Trump administration's Department of Homeland Security admitted as much. Donald Trump and the Republicans had every opportunity to prove their case in court, and they failed miserably. Court after court turned them away, including by judges appointed by Trump and other Republican presidents. The only reason this question comes up is because politicians in Harrisburg are feeding the “Big Lie,” which creates hysteria among their supporters, which they then use to justify more burdens to voting. It's a twisted cycle, and it's undemocratic. ACLU-PA and our allies will continue to defend democracy, even if, and especially if, some cynical politicians won't. 

For the ACLU-PA, building confidence in Pennsylvania's election system would include legislation that provides for same-day registration, vote centers, early, in-person voting, language access, and increased state funding for chronically underfunded county election offices. Each of these changes would modernize our election system and expand access to the ballot to ensure that every eligible voter can participate in our electoral process with no significant differences based on age, race, party or physical limitations.

Kadida Kenner: First and foremost, several lawmakers in Harrisburg need to stop perpetuating the "Big Lie" and undermining the confidence and faith some Pennsylvanians have in our elections so that we can restore the public's trust. Any lack of confidence felt by some Pennsylvanians is likely due to former President Trump and his sycophants in elected office in the Commonwealth intentionally undermining the confidence of voters in our elections, and the safeguards, already in place, that have resulted in people being caught when trying to vote illegally. The current system works. We need to make it easier for voters to cast their ballots. We don't need to modernize our elections in order for the system to work with our current safeguards.

Pennsylvania had an accurate, free and fair election in the Commonwealth. We already have effective voter ID requirements in the Commonwealth. I'll repeat myself; voters need to have an ID to register to vote, request a mail-in ballot, and cast their ballots when voting for the first time. It's effective. Lawmakers should be focused on funding our local elections so that election officials can ensure timely results, precanvass, and also receive increased training for election workers to decrease errors. Lawmakers in the Commonwealth should be focused on policy that helps people, not peddle electoral lies that attempt to undermine our faith in elections.