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An initiative to provide nonpartisan, independent elections journalism for southwestern Pennsylvania.

Pa. House Republicans seek to force vote on tougher voter ID law

A man in a suit stands at a lectern
Jaxon White
State Rep. Bryan Cutler, of Drumore Township, on Monday announced that House Republicans are renewing their calls to tighten the state's voter ID requirements.

Pennsylvania House Republicans on Monday renewed their push to require voters to show an official ID every time they cast a ballot, a measure they’ve said would help secure the state’s elections.

Pennsylvania already requires voters to show a valid form of identification when voting at a polling place for the first time. Many Democrats and advocacy groups have warned that tightening the current law could suppress votes, especially those cast by the state’s Black and Latino voters.

State Rep. Bryan Cutler, the leader of Republicans in the Pennsylvania House, gathered with other GOP lawmakers in Harrisburg’s Ryan Building Atrium on Monday to announce a plan to use a procedural rule known as a discharge resolution to advance a proposed amendment to the state Constitution expanding the voter ID requirement. They hope to pass the bill out of the State Government Committee, where it’s sat idle since April last year.

The amendment could be immediately referred to the full house if 25 members of each party sign the discharge petition. Cutler said it would only take “three more reasonable” Democrats since 22 of them voted for voter ID legislation last year.

But even then, the voter ID amendment would face an uphill battle in a chamber controlled by Democrats, who have broadly opposed mandatory voter ID.

State Rep. Mike Sturla, who has served in the state House since 1991, said the discharge resolution process has historically been “very unsuccessful.”

“We’ll just refer it to another committee,” he said, alluding to the Democrats’ ability to steer the House’s agenda even if a resolution forces the bill out of the State Government Committee.

Amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution must be approved by both chambers of the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions. Since a bill with the same voter ID language passed last session, when Republicans had control of the House and Senate, Cutler explained that the Republicans’ voter ID referendum could appear on this year’s general election ballot if the Legislature passes it at least 90 days before Election Day on November 5.

“Time is of the essence,” said Cutler, of Drumore Township.

The bill also includes a provision that would require the state to provide a valid voter ID “upon request and confirmation of identity” to those who lack one.

Beth Rementer, a spokeswoman for House Democrats, said the latest attempt to advance a stricter voter ID law is “nothing more than a political stunt” and pointed to the fact that Republicans voted against a voter ID proposal last year that was part of an omnibus election reform bill. Republicans at the time said they opposed other provisions in the legislation, which most Democrats also voted against.

Controversial outcomes

Sturla, whose 96th District covers a northern portion of Lancaster city, Manheim Township and East Petersburg, said Republicans’ push to require voters to present ID at every election is a “red herring” aimed at suppressing turnout among Democratic voters.

Kadida Kenner, chief executive of New Pennsylvania Project, a West Chester-based voting rights nonprofit, shared similar concerns.

“This is their (Republicans’) attempt to stop Black and Brown folks, young voters and immigrant communities from having more convenient access to ballots and having their voices heard on Election Day,” Kenner told LNP | LancasterOnline.

Kenner said House Republicans’ announcement Monday was a “tit for tat” response to Democratic House Speaker Joanna McClinton, of Philadelphia, who last week said she plans to advance legislation to expand early voting and same-day voter registration.

Marian Schneider, senior policy counsel for voting rights at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said the state already has “safe and secure” elections and that Republicans’ hopes to require identification will make it more difficult to vote.

“Every eligible voter who wants to vote and who shows up should have the opportunity to cast their ballot, without unnecessary hurdles implemented by politicians,” Schneider said.

The Lancaster County Board of Elections declined to comment on what impacts the voter ID proposal would have on voting in the county.

State voter fraud cases

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification before they vote.

Still, research has shown that cases of voter fraud are incredibly rare.

The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative research group, has found just six cases statewide since 2016 where criminal sentences were issued against defendants who allegedly committed acts of voter fraud.

When asked by a reporter about the frequency of voter fraud in Pennsylvania, Cutler and other House Republicans said it’s difficult to indicate how often it occurs, but pointed to the 2020 case where former Philadelphia U.S. Congressman Michael “Ozzie” Myers was charged with ballot stuffing for candidates in 2014, 2015 and 2016 elections.

A Delaware County man pleaded guilty to perjury and unlawful voting for illegally casting a ballot in his deceased mother’s name for Donald Trump in 2020, as did a Luzerne County man. Similarly, a Chester County man pleaded guilty in 2021 to illegally casting a ballot in his son’s name.

Last month, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled against state GOP lawmakers’ attempts to subpoena 2020 election records that were inspired by former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that mass voter fraud had stolen a victory from him in Pennsylvania during that year’s presidential election.

In 2022, a Lancaster city woman was charged with casting a ballot for her deceased mother in that year’s primary. The woman later said she cast the vote for John Fetterman, who was running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.