Republican state senators put Pennsylvania on the path Wednesday to becoming the 16th state to require voters to show certain photo identification before their ballots are counted.
The senate vote came on Wednesday after a contentious debate during which Democrats called it an attempt to suppress votes by the party's traditional supporters in November's presidential election.
Labor unions, counties, civil liberties advocates, labor unions, the AARP and NAACP also objected to the bill, which passed the Republican-controlled chamber, 26-23, after several hours of debate.
State Republican Chairman Rob Gleason of Johnstown defended the measure as a necessary step to ensure fair elections.
“Showing identification has become a part of our daily lives. We show ID to prove that we are who we say we are when we drive a car, board plane, cash a check, purchase medicine, buy a gun or go hunting for our protection, said Gleason in a news release.
“The only form of voter fraud the bill would stop is voter impersonation – a low-gain, high-risk crime that has only been documented to have occurred three times nationwide between 2000 and 2010, and has not once been prosecuted, said State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Pa. 17th District.
Democrats said the bill is designed to create hurdles for the poor, elderly, sick and disabled, and questioned the validity of Republican arguments about protecting the integrity of elections when there is scant evidence of voter fraud.
Democratic Appropriations Chair Vincent Hughes, D-Pa. 7th District, called the legislation the “Voter Suppression Bill.” “The bill would not only eliminate voters from exercising their Constitutional right to vote, but it would cost Pennsylvania approximately $4.3 million, said Hughes.”
Each Democrat voted against the bill, while three Republicans opposed it.
It has the support of Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, and it is expected to receive approval within days from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which passed a stricter version of the bill last year.
Republican legislatures around the country are pressing the issue, and Pennsylvania would become the third-largest state, behind Texas and Florida, with such a photo ID requirement. A legal challenge is pending to a similar law passed last year in Wisconsin, and the ACLU said it will pursue one in Pennsylvania.
The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania has warned lawmakers that adding the additional step of requiring poll workers to check photo IDs will create longer Election Day lines at polling places, but provide no extra security for ballots.
Republicans say that county election officials should have time to give the concept a test run during the April 24 primary elections -- asking people for ID, but not requiring it -- and it would become effective for the Nov. 6 general election.