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Should Pa. require voter ID? Research agency divided on best ways to implement it.

  • Robby Brod
Members of Pa.'s Election Law Advisory Board discuss potential changes to the state election code during a virtual meeting on May 31, 2023

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Members of Pa.'s Election Law Advisory Board discuss potential changes to the state election code during a virtual meeting on May 31, 2023

Research shows most Pennsylvanians support a photo ID requirement at the polls, but if the state were to mandate this, what would happen to the voters who don’t have their IDs on Election Day?

This was discussed by the Pennsylvania Election Law Advisory Board, a bipartisan group of election experts and lawmakers who recommend ways to improve elections. During a meeting Wednesday, board members couldn’t decide whether to recommend a photo ID mandate at the polls.

Patrick Christmas, chief policy officer with government watchdog group the Committee of Seventy, said he could support the requirement if the recommendations acknowledged widespread voter fraud is not a problem – and if no voters were disenfranchised.

“The majority of Pennsylvanians think this is common sense that you should show something on Election Day. That list of photo and non-photo options should be very robust,” he said. “If someone shows up on Tuesday and they happen to not have one of the approved photo and non-photo options… they’d be able to sign an affidavit and use the voting system as they usually would.”

Board member Christina Iacono agreed that any mandate should still allow voters without IDs to cast ballots along with a signed affidavit.

She said this would not compromise election security.

“If someone signs an affidavit and they commit voter fraud, they are committing a felony,” she said. “If you really want to see if this is a problem, this is the best way to do this. You will then have a record of the voters that are committing said felony.”

Critics of the affidavit idea, including Republican House Rep. Russ Diamond, of Lebanon County, argue those voters should fill out provisional ballots, which are set aside by poll workers and counted after they verify the voters’ identities.

“The reason we have provisional voting is because there may be a question about whether the voter is actually eligible to vote, and we want to review that separately,” he said. “But if you’re that one voter who swore a false affidavit, your vote is already in the pile of anonymous votes that have been counted. And if that vote is counted in a race – and we’ve seen this in Pennsylvania – which is decided by one vote, now you’ve spoiled the whole bunch.”

Patrick Christmas re-emphasized the importance of making sure every eligible vote counts.

“I’ll just offer the flip side of that point, Russ,” he said. “One person who’s disenfranchised, who should not have been because they’re a legitimate voter, that impacts the election too – that contaminates the whole bunch… the points that I’m arguing are to absolutely minimize, to doggone near zero, the chance that we disenfranchise anybody.”

Iacono said an increase in provisional ballots would overburden election offices – and create more room for human error.

“I’m a fan of the affidavits because they do that in other states that have voter ID and it allows for a quicker result process,” she said. “You don’t have as many provisional ballots in the precinct, if this is an issue.”

Randall Wenger, manager of Rapho Township and former chief clerk for the Lancaster County Board of Elections, said provisional ballots are “a pain in the butt.”

“Provisional ballots with advocates, activists leering over your shoulders was even more of a pain in the butt,” he said.

He said any mandate should reinforce the rights for poll workers to challenge the identities of those they suspect of voter fraud and make them vote provisionally.

“Given the potential errors that could otherwise disenfranchise a ballot provisional, and the safeguards we do already have for the challenge of a voter’s identity by the poll worker, I think I can live with the affidavit just to keep things moving more smoothly and be less problematic in the polling place,” he said. “Worst possible scenario, it’s more than we’re doing now.”

Board members were unable to reach an agreement on whether to recommend a voter ID mandate and agreed to table the issue until their next meeting.

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