I was asked to show my ID when I voted in the May primary. Doesn't PA already have a Voter ID law?

Chances are you were a new voter or voting for the first time in a new polling place.  (These are the only times Pennsylvania voters currently have to prove their identity.)  

What's different about the Voter ID law passed by the State House?  

You would be required to show identification every single time you go to your polling place. And the identification must (1) have your picture and, (2) be issued by the federal or state government. This means a U.S. passport, a driver’s license or a special voter registration card issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). And you better make sure your ID hasn’t expired.   

I have having my picture taken.

Too bad. Unless you have a religious objection to being photographed – in which case, you can get a non-photo driver’s license or another non-photo ID from PennDOT – you’re stuck.

When I voted in May, all I had to show was an electric bill with my name and address. No picture.

The current law – which only requires ID if you are a new voter or voting for the first time in a new polling place – allows you to present many forms of ID, photo or non-photo. But if the proposed Voter ID law passes and you try to prove who you are with an electric bill, you won’t be allowed to vote.   

Why can't I use my college ID? That has my picture.

The only acceptable photo ID under the proposed Voter ID law would be one that is issued by the federal or state government. (Don’t throw out that electric bill though. It won’t help you vote, but you still have to pay it.)   

Frankly, I always carry my driver's license. I don't see this as a big inconvenience.

You may not, but you would be surprised how many people don’t have a photo ID issued by the federal or state government. According to the state Departments of Transportation and State (which oversees statewide elections), 3.9% of registered Pennsylvania voters don’t have the type of photo ID that would be acceptable under the proposed Voter ID law. 

That doesn't seem like so many people.

There are nearly 8.2 million registered voters in Pennsylvania – 3.9% works out to about 320,000 people. That’s more voters than the entire population of Pittsburgh.

Who wouldn't have a photo ID?

Generally speaking, people without a photo ID tend to be elderly, low-income, minorities, disabled and students. Why? Because many people who fit these descriptions – according to studies – either can’t afford or have no use for drivers’ licenses or passports. Opponents of Voter ID laws say that requiring a photo ID would effectively deprive large groups of people of their right to vote. 

If PA is considering a Voter ID law, there must be a good reason.

Supporters of Voter ID laws say that requiring a photo ID is the best way to prevent voter fraud and ensure the integrity of the electoral process. 

How will a voter ID prevent fraud?

Let’s say Joe Jones comes into a polling place and says he’s John Smith. Let’s also assume that the people who work at the polling place never met John Smith so they don’t know if Joe Jones is or is not John Smith. If Joe Jones can’t show them a government-issued photo ID to prove that he is John Smith or if he shows them John Smith’s photo ID and he looks absolutely nothing like the picture (and his signature in the poll book – which is the official list that polling place officials have of voters in their division – is entirely different), chances are good that Joe Jones is committing voter fraud. 

Is voter fraud a problem in Pennsylvania?

It depends on how you define the problem. According to the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, there is no dispute that election fraud does occur (e.g., submitting absentee ballots in the name of another person or coercing voters submitting absentee ballots to vote for a certain candidate). But, according to the Center’s research, since the only type of voter fraud that a photo ID would prevent is impersonating another voter at the polls, “it’s more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning.”  

Obviously some people disagree.  

Some would say that preventing any type of voter fraud is worth the effort. And in response to the argument that a Voter ID law would effectively drive people away from voting, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State Carol Aichele pointed out in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed that, despite Georgia’s strict photo ID law, the state had a record turnout in the 2008 presidential primary and again in the general election, where the African-American vote increased by five percent.

Why not just give a photo ID free-of-charge to people who can't afford it?

The proposed Voter ID law would do just that: PennDOT will give a special voting photo ID free-of-charge to anyone who doesn’t have an acceptable photo ID.  

How much effort can it take?

You have to complete an application and sign a statement that you don’t have an acceptable photo ID (a driver’s license or passport) to use for voting purposes. (PennDOT’s website lists five Photo ID Centers in Philadelphia county.) Some people will just decide it’s not worth the hassle. 

Times are tough: How much will it cost for PA to implement Voter ID?

A fiscal note attached to the Voter ID bill by the House Appropriations Committee estimated that it would cost around $4.3 million in 2011-2012 to give voters a free photo ID in order to vote. The non-partisan Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center came up with a higher initial cost – $11 million – by factoring in the production and distribution of the photo ID cards (and the salaries for PennDOT employees with responsibilities for these activities), equipment and other operating costs and voter outreach to inform people of the new Voter ID requirements. 

You said that Republicans and Democrats typically split on Voter ID. Why is a partisan issue?

Isn’t everything? And this gets to the heart of the issue of why Voter ID laws are so controversial: Low income and minority voters are statistically more likely to support Democratic candidates. The upshot is that it could keep people who lack an acceptable ID away from the polls, which is likely to lower the number of Democratic votes.     

Now I get it- it's all about the Presidential Election.

That’s what many Democrats think. But Secretary Aichele says the Corbett administration has one motive: “to deter fraud and make sure every person's vote has the weight it deserves in deciding elections.”

Tthe Committee of Seventy is known for its fight for fair elections. Where do you stand?  

Seventy opposes a Voter ID law for Pennsylvania. But we debated long and hard before taking this position. To review Seventy’s resolution, see: http://www.seventy.org/Downloads/Voter_ID_Resolution.pdf

Was Seventy turned off by the requirement that only a government-issued photo ID will be accepted?

We’re not sure it would change our position. But the proposed Voter ID law does seem very inflexible on that point. We found it interesting that, in the 2011 scorecard by the non-partisan Rock the Vote that measured each state’s implementation of policies that increase access of young people to the political process, Pennsylvania’s highest score was for non-restrictive voter ID requirements (photo or non-photo ID required only for new voters or for voters casting a ballot in a new district for the first time). In terms of overall policies to meet the needs of young voters, PA was tied for the 10th worst state overall.  

By the way, what happens if I have a government-issued photo ID but forget to bring it to the polls?  

The proposed Voter ID law would allow you to vote by provisional ballot, which is a paper ballot a voter whose eligibility is questioned can fill out at a polling place. But in order for your vote to count, you would have to go to the Board of Elections in your county within six calendar days of the election and sign an affidavit affirming that you are the same person who appeared at your polling place and voted by provisional ballot.

I live in a nursing home and have voted every year since 1939. Why would PA do this to me?

Under the proposed Voter ID law, people who live in a long-term care nursing facility or an assisted living residence with an in-house polling place only have to show an acceptable proof of their identity the first time they vote there. An elections officer has to sign an affidavit saying that you have done this.

Do other states have Voter ID laws?

As of August 2011, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 30 states require (or will require once laws that have been passed go into effect) voters to show some form of identification before voting – 14 mandating a photo ID and 16 allowing non-photo IDs as well. You can read a state-by-state breakdown by going to: http://www.ncsl.org/Default.aspx?TabId=16602. 

Have Voter ID laws been challenged in court?

Yes, a challenge to Indiana’s strict Voter ID law (photo ID only) made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high Court ruled that Indiana’s law – which issues free photo IDs for all voters without a valid driver’s license, ensures that eligible voters without a photo ID could still cast ballots that would be counted and provides another way for elderly citizens to vote without a photo ID – did not violate the federal constitution. But the divided Court made clear that laws without similar safeguards could be vulnerable. A Brennan Center of Justice study on what the courts have said about Voter ID laws is available at:http://brennan.3cdn.net/2f0860fb73fd559359_zzm6bhnld.pdf.

One more questions. How can I tell my state Senator how I feel before she votes on the propsed Voter ID law?

Log onto our website at http://guide.seventy.org/ to get contact information for your Senator. If you don’t know who that person is, you can type in your address and we will let you know.

We hoped this helped you understand more about the issues surrounding the Voter ID debate in Pennsylvania. If you have any questions, or have thoughts about other topics for our “IN THE KNOW”series, please contact us atfutureofthecity@seventy.org.