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Senate launches voter ID constitutional amendment process

The Pennsylvania State Capitol building on Monday, June 22, 2020.

 Courtesy Gov. Tom Wolf's Flickr page

The Pennsylvania State Capitol building on Monday, June 22, 2020.

(Harrisburg) — A divided Pennsylvania Senate on Wednesday approved a constitutional amendment to require identification for voters each time they cast a ballot, starting the lengthy amendment process that usually takes years to complete.

All Republicans and a single Democrat voted as the proposal passed 30-20. Constitutional amendments require passage by both chambers in two consecutive two-year sessions before going to voters for the final OK.

The GOP majority Legislature has increasingly turned to constitutional amendments to avoid having partisan legislation vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

“We should not go down the path of amending our constitution every time we may disagree on a particular issue of policy, and certainly there’s disagreement on this particular issue,” said Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks.

The voter ID provision is part of a package of changes that Republican state lawmakers have been pushing this year in response to their constituents’ displeasure at the result of former President Donald Trump’s failed re-election campaign last fall.

“This is something that the people of Pennsylvania are begging for,” said Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, the sponsor. She cited recent polling that indicated strong support for greater voter identification requirements.

Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, said getting proper ID can often be a time-consuming process and have financial costs.

“There is very little evidence of systemic voter fraud in Pennsylvania,” Street said. “We should all be working to try and get as many people to participate in the electoral process as possible.”

Pennsylvania voters currently must provide identification when they register to vote, the first time they vote at a new polling place and when they obtain an absentee or mail-in ballot.

The proposed amendment would have those voting by mail provide “proof of a valid identification with his or her ballot,” but does not elaborate on how that would work in practice. Under the proposal, any government-issued ID will suffice.

The lone Democrat to vote in favor was Sen. Lisa Boscola of Lehigh County, who regularly crosses party lines on legislation. The bill was sent to the state House for its consideration.

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