“I need to see to some ID.”
Soon, you could be hearing that at election-time.
Most people are used to providing some form of identification for everyday tasks such as going to a nightclub, or even going to work. But a bill requiring voters to provide a photo ID at the polls, if approved, would disenfranchise many, some say.
The legislation originally was meant to stop local elected officials from running for empty seats on a school board or town council in mid-term (this happened recently in McKeesport School District), but the bill has changed into something that is unrecognizable to it original sponsor, state Rep. Mark Gergely (D, McKeesport).
“House Bill 1318 is simply closing an election loophole. That was the specific and only intent of the bill,” Gergely says.
As the bill changed, Gergely took his name off of the sponsorship list.
Now the legislation is all wrong, Gergely says. “It’s disenfranchising voters, which I’m completely opposed to. I’ve asked the governor to veto it,” he says.
Gergely notes that the amendment session on HB 1318 was the longest of the year. “It was a 2-day amendment session,” he says.
While Gergely does use the word disenfranchisement when referring to the bill, he doesn’t go so far is to suggest that the bill’s new sponsors intend to disenfranchise voters. But other critics of the legislation have no problem going there.
Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania, says the bill targets the elderly and poor people—people who are less likely to have an ID card. “It certainly will have the heaviest impact on poor people. Minorities have more poor people than others,” he says. “This is a 21st century poll tax.”
Rep. Daryl Metcalf (R, Cranberry), disagrees. He says HB 1318 is good legislation.
“The voter identification component was one of my amendments. When we go to vote, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they show ID,” he says. “I think it’s common sense and appropriate to ensure that fraudulent votes aren’t counted.”
Metcalf wasn’t sure exactly how much voter fraud, if any, has been occurring of late in Pennsylvania. “What is important is that we close loopholes before they become a problem,” he says.
In addition to Common Cause, the Committee Of Seventy in Philadelphia is opposed to the legislation. Other opponents of HB 1318 include AARP, ACLU, ACORN, B-PEP, People for the American Way, League of Women Voters, Pennsylvania Voters Coalition, and other groups.
Kauffman says the arguments for the bill don’t hold up. "The defenders of this say it's to help prevent voter fraud. But nobody seems to know how many people have been prosecuted for voter fraud in Pennsylvania," he says. "We're creating an answer to a problem that doesn't exist."