The Lead

Despite questions on process, Senate committee advances proposed constitutional change on Voter ID

By: - June 21, 2021 5:37 pm

State Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, the architect of a proposed constitutional amendment that would declare there is no right to abortion in the state’s foundational document (Screen Capture).

A proposed constitutional change that would require Pennsylvanians to show identification every time they vote is headed to the floor of the Pennsylvania state Senate.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 15-9 party-line vote on Monday, which means it could come before the full Senate soon. Republicans in the GOP-controlled General Assembly are increasingly looking to constitutional amendments to dodge Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto pen.

Currently, Pennsylvania voters only have to show identification when it’s their first time voting at their polling place. Ward’s proposal would mandate identification for every election. She’s argued that the constitutional amendment process would remove politics from the discussion on election integrity — referencing Wolf’s promise to veto legislation that would mandate voter identification.

But Senate Democrats worry the proposed amendment, which requires voters to present identification with their mail-in ballot, will compromise integrity by giving election officials access to confidential information: how a voter casts their ballot.

Under Ward’s proposal, voters would include a copy of their identification with their mail-in ballot, so whoever opens their envelope will have access to their name and ballot results. This wouldn’t be the case for traditional in-person voters who cast their vote in the privacy of a poll booth.

During last week’s Senate State Government Committee meeting, Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, asked Ward how the legislation would protect the sanctity of mail-in ballots, but she didn’t answer directly.

“This constitutional amendment is for voter ID,” Ward said. “This will go on the ballot and the specific process will be worked out with the Department of State, and it can be worked out through legislation.”

Ward, who did not respond to a request for comment, also failed to answer when the Legislature would work with the Department of State to fine-tune the process.

Before a ballot question reaches voters, amendments must be approved by the Legislature in two consecutive sessions — meaning that the process can take months, if not years. The earliest this amendment could reach voters for consideration is May 2023.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.