Voter ID Passes PA Senate, Faces an Uncertain Future in State House
HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - Last week, the Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Bill 1, which includes three constitutional amendments. Senate Bill 1, originally only included voter ID, however two additional constitutional amendments, including a two-year civil window for childhood sex abuse victims and regulatory override, were added to the bill.
Voter ID has been a hot-button issue for lawmakers and advocates in Harrisburg. The passage of SB 1 prompted response from advocacy organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of PA.
"Most of our concerns have to deal with the lack of clarity,” said Elizabeth Randol, Legislative Director for ACLU PA. “It's a solution without a problem,” she added.
Randol and opponents to Pennsylvania’s voter ID constitutional amendment have more questions than answers, like what exactly counts as a government issued ID?
“They say that it is an unexpired government issued identification, that's it. We don't know what that could be,” said Randol, adding that it could negatively impact those without a license, like many senior citizens and those who frequently change addresses. “A disproportionate effect on older, rural and younger, typically people of color. And the same thing with people who are moving a lot, if you don't update your ID, then you're going to have some problems,” she added.
Randol and the ACLU are worried about the mechanisms in place, or lack thereof, to handle voter ID that would be necessary every time someone votes in person or by mail.
“It is not clear that the Commonwealth, right now, has the mechanisms to actually implement this. What happens if we pass a constitutional amendment that requires that people show ID every single time they vote, and there's no enabling legislation that provides the kind of detail that counties are going to need to be able to implement this,” said Randol. "Our concern is that it becomes a patchwork, that there's no clear direction, that there are counties who are doing this differently, taking different types of IDs into account,” Randol added.
“I don't see it that way at all. You know, almost everything that we do in society today, is digital. Either your driver's license number on your security envelope, or the last for your Social Security number. That can be scanned just as easily as any other piece of mail,” said State Senator Dan Laughlin (R-Erie), the sponsor of SB 1.
However, Randol argues Laughlin’s amendment does not provide enough information for voters to make an informed decision.
“They say, let the people decide, but it's not clear. I don't know what the voters exactly are deciding on,” said Randol. “Part of the responsibility of the legislature, why they are elected and why they get paid is to do this deep dive, to do the detailed work, you don't just hand it off to the voters to make a random generic decision with no details provided, and then expect somehow that our elections work more smoothly,” she added.
Laughlin agrees that certain details will need to be sorted, but adds that it will be the responsibility of the House, the Senate, and the governor to reach agreement when, or if, the amendment is approved by voters. However, he says some form of voter ID is overdue in Pennsylvania. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 35 others states have some form of voter ID in place.
“I think this is going to provide a level of comfort for a lot of people in Pennsylvania that their elections are safe and secure,” said Laughlin, adding that his constituents, as well as the majority of American voters, want voter ID. “We have this distrust now of our voting process, and this is going to help ease those people's fear,” he added.
Laughlin says he does not believe there is widespread voter fraud, but believes his legislation provides a common-sense approach, especially for mail-in applications, which he says are sometimes accepted without identification.
“If you don't have either a Social Security number or a state issued ID number, then there's just a box to check that says, I don't have one, and you move on and you can vote anyway,” said Laughlin.
Randol warns that enacting some form of voter ID can deter residents from voting, especially with no definitions, additional funding for counties, and other mechanisms in place.
“Any mechanism that makes it more difficult to vote will almost certainly increase lines at the polls, making it more inconvenient and less attractive for people who may already be not inclined to vote. We want to see as many people vote as possible,” said Randol.
Laughlin disagrees, and says some states with voter ID laws saw an increase in voting.
“Quite frankly, it might actually speed the process up if it's standardized,” said Laughlin. “I think if most people know that they're going to have to show ID when they walk in the vote, they'll probably have it out and ready to go anyway, so I don't see that as a huge issue,” he added.
SB 1 passed the Republican-controlled Senate 28-20. It awaits approval from the near-evenly split House. House Speaker Mark Rozzi has stated that the House would not consider any additional legislation until it passed a two-year civil window for victims of childhood sex abuse, which is one of the two amendments added to SB 1. The House would have to pass SB 1 before Jan. 27 in order for it to be placed on the primary ballot for voters to decide. With such a narrow margin in the House, and plenty of opposition from Democrats, it's unclear whether the House will pass SB 1 before the primary deadline. If they do, and voters approve voter ID in the spring, the House, Senate and Governor Shapiro would have to ultimately find compromise on the specifics of voter ID in Pennsylvania. Laughlin says that compromise could include things like pre-canvassing.
“I know the counties want it, I'm for that. I would suspect that if Senate Bill 1 passes, and the voters accepted that, we will certainly get to work on pre-canvasing to make this a little bit easier for the counties to have the results on election night, kind of like it used to be,” said Laughlin.