Gov. Tom Corbett signed the voter ID bill into law today, hours after it was passed by the Pa. House. The controversial legislation will require voters to present photo identification at the polls. The State Senate passed it last week.
The House vote was almost strictly on party lines. The final vote, taken after 3 days of heated debate, was 104-88. Pennsylvania has become the 16th state to have a voter ID law. Three Republicans (Reps. Chris Ross, Kurt Masser and Marguerite Quinn) joined the entire Democratic caucus to oppose the bill.
Voters will need to present one of many types of common photo identification at the polls, such as a driver’s license or school ID. A person who shows up with no identification or one that is not accepted will be able to cast a provisional ballot and present election officials an acceptable form of ID within six days to have their vote count.
There will be a “trial run” for the requirement during Pennsylvania’s April 24th primary, where voters will be asked for ID but not turned away if they cannot provide it. The law will be in full effect for November’s election.
Republicans have said the bill will prevent voter fraud and protect the sanctity of elections. They argue that IDs will not be difficult to obtain for the few people who do not already have appropriate photo identification.
They note that the current law requires voters to present ID their first time voting at any given polling place.
Corbett defended the law as necessary for secure elections.
“I am signing this bill because it protects a sacred principle, one shared by every citizen of this nation. That principle is: one person, one vote,’’ he said. “It sets a simple and clear standard to protect the integrity of our elections.’’
“This bill simply reinforces the notion that each person is entitled to one vote in this country,” said House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny. “It’s an important principle, and we need to adhere to it.”
“I believe every single individual has a right to have their vote counted and if any individual vote is being canceled out by a fraudulently cast vote, that is one too many,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, told colleagues.
Democrats were universally opposed to the bill, saying it will suppress the votes of many groups, including students, minorities, the elderly, and the disabled. Members of these groups may not have appropriate ID, it has been argued. Although the bill states that all voters will be able to get a free voter ID card from PennDOT, opponents argue that poor, elderly or rural Pennsylvanians would still have a difficult time obtaining one.
Additionally, cost estimates for implementing the law range from $4 million to $11 million and more.
“The essence comes down to one basic truth: That it stifles our fundamental right to vote that is enshrined in our Democracy,” said Rep. Daniel Frankel, D-Allegheny. “Any attempt to infringe that right is an affront to the constitution and it is an affront to the founders of this nation.”
Additionally, little in the way of substantive evidence introduced to necessitate the legislation, aside a few anecdotes from lawmakers. There has not been a single conviction for voter impersonation – the offense the law is designed to prevent – in Pennsylvania.
Even President Obama’s campaign in Pennsylvania, typically mum on legislation in Harrisburg, commented on the law.
“It is unfortunate that lawmakers in Harrisburg have wasted time and energy to pass a costly bill to address a non-existent problem, rather than focus on creating jobs and restoring economic security for Pennsylvania families,” said OFA-PA Press Secretary Jennifer Austin. “The Obama campaign is committed to working hard to register voters and educate people about the process to ensure that all eligible voters can get to the polls and exercise their right to vote in support of the President in November.”
Senate Democrats and the ACLU have pledged a court challenge as soon as the bill becomes law. Other groups who have vocalized their opposition to the bill include the NAACP, AARP, and various civil rights activists.
A similar bill in Wisconsin has just been ruled unconstitutional by a judge who called the bill a form of voter suppression. The U.S. Justice Department has also blocked a similar law from going into effect in Texas, saying it would have a discriminatory effect on Hispanics and other minorities. In December, the Justice Department blocked a voter ID bill in South Carolina for the same reason.
However, in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a photo ID requirement for voters in Indiana.