The Pennsylvania Senate this week passed an amendment to the state Constitution that would require individuals to provide identification to vote in person in an election.

Also contained in the bill the chamber approved is an amendment that would open the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse and another amendment that would strengthen legislators’ power against a governor’s regulatory authority. 

One Democrat, State Senator Lisa Boscola (D-Bethlehem), joined all 27 Senate Republicans to pass the legislation. State Senator Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) characterized the voter ID measure he sponsors as a minimal request the commonwealth can make of its citizens to ensure its elections are secure. 

“There are a number of things for which we are required to provide ID on a regular, sometimes daily, basis,” he told colleagues Wednesday evening. “The need to provide identification is one of the most common things that we do in our society today. If we require ID for so many other things — including our state’s mail-in voting process — how can we dismiss the need to identify oneself before engaging in the most fundamental part of our electoral process?”

The state senator noted that polling on a voter-ID requirement showed the idea to be popular. A 2021 Franklin & Marshall College survey, for instance, found 74 percent of respondents backed requiring voters to submit ID to vote. Laughlin further observed that 35 other states stipulate that voters must bring some form of ID to their poll to cast a vote. 

GOP lawmakers passed a voter-ID statute in 2021, but then-Governor Tom Wolf (D) vetoed it. Republicans then set their sights on the constitutional-amendment process, which does not require the executive branch to sign off.   

To amend the Pennsylvania Constitution, the General Assembly must pass a measure in two consecutive legislative sessions and submit the issue to voters as a ballot question. The voter ID amendment passed both chambers last session, but Republicans must move quickly to secure its passage this time. While Republicans outnumber Democrats by two in the House of Representatives, three special elections early next year will almost certainly hand Democrats a majority insofar as all three vacancies are in deep-blue districts. 

Many Democrats argue that requiring identification keeps many residents from exercising their voting rights.

“Voter-ID laws like this are known tactics that suppress votes and make it harder for people to access the ballots,” Senator Amanda Cappelletti (D-Norristown) told reporters this week. “Instead, we should be using our power as legislators to empower voters to give them better access to voting, not creating barriers that will make it harder for them to participate in our democracy.” 

Research concerning such laws has found they do not disenfranchise voters. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research examining the impact of ID requirements determined they “have no negative effect on registration or turnout, overall or for any group defined by race, gender, age, or party affiliation.” 

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].