PETER JACKSON, Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) â€” About once a month on average since the beginning of the year, Republican-controlled states have approved laws requiring voters to show photo identification at theÂ polls.
Kansas, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Tennessee â€” all have either adopted new requirements or expanded existing identification laws to specify photo IDs, pushing the total number of states that require them to 13. Sixteen other states require non-photoÂ identification.
Pennsylvania â€” with its huge Republican gains in last year’s midterm elections that included the governorship and control of both houses of the Legislature â€” is now poised to consider a photo ID bill. TheÂ House State Government Committee sent it to the floor and initial consideration could come as early as nextÂ week.
Whether the state will join or buck the national trend is anyone’sÂ guess.
In 2006, mostly on the strength of Republican votes, the Legislature passed a bill that required all voters to show identification every time they vote. Former Democratic governorÂ Ed Rendell vetoed the measure, saying it would make voting unnecessarily difficult. Currently, only people voting in a polling place for the first time are required to showÂ ID.
Whatever the outcome, the latest bill sets up a showdown between Republicans who have fought for years to require identification at the polls, saying that is needed to prevent election fraud, andÂ Democrats who say there is little evidence of abuse and that the GOP’s real motivation is to hold down turnout among voter groups that lean toward DemocraticÂ candidates.
So far, more Democrats than Republicans are publicly talking about the bill. The stateÂ Democratic Party planned to put up online ads urging senior citizens to call their legislators to register opposition to the measure. Older people, as well as low-income people, students and minorities, are among the groups that critics say would be most affected by theÂ proposal.
“It addresses a problem that doesn’t exist,” party spokesmanÂ Mark Nicastre said.
The bill, sponsored by Rep.Â Daryl Metcalfe, would require all voters to show poll officials a valid document issued by the state or federal governments that includes their name and photograph. Those who lack such documentation could obtain identification cards that the stateÂ Department of Transportation would be required to issue at no cost to theÂ voter.
Metcalfe, R-Butler, says the legislation would reduce voter fraud by requiring nothing more than a form of identification that is already routinely required for activities that include operating a motor vehicle, boarding a commercial airplane or cashing a check. The bill “is essential to preserving the sacred freedom of voting from the ever-present forces of corruption seeking to override the will of the people,” MetcalfeÂ said.
Democrats, outnumbered in both houses, argue that many senior citizens lack government-issued identification and that the additional red tape could discourage them from exercising their right to vote. They also say the free photo ID cards guaranteed by the bill would cost taxpayers millions of dollars and are challenging Republicans to show clear evidence that fraud is occurring on a broadÂ scale.
“If we’re going to (deprive) voters of their constitutional right and spend nearly $10 million to do it, we must be certain there is a problem and that this legislation would fix it,” said Rep.Â Babette Josephs of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the State GovernmentÂ Committee.
Republican legislative leaders remain circumspect about the bill’s chances ofÂ passage.
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