A bill is wending its way through the Pennsylvania legislature that would require voters to produce a government-issued photo each time they hit the polls, but opponents say the measure could create many more problems than it could fix.
The Pennsylvania House is expected to vote on the measure, submitted by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-12th Dist.), this month, but civil-rights advocates have said the measure could further discriminate against marginalized communities.
“There is research that indicates that there is a significant percentage of U.S. citizens who don’t have government-issued identification,” said Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union legislative director Andy Hoover. “This bill runs the risk of disenfranchising U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote. When you look at the research on who doesn’t have IDs, it’s communities that have historically been marginalized, so racial minorities, people over 65, those living in poverty, as well as people with disabilities, people who’ve just gotten out of prison or the homeless.”
Those undergoing a gender transition, or whose gender presentation may not match the gender marker on their ID, could also face complications, Hoover said.
“The potential is certainly there,” he said. “Poll workers would have to check IDs to make sure people are who they say they are, and if a person may be transitioning, there is definitely that risk.”
Currently, only first-time voters in the state must present photo identification.
Local trans activist Kathy Padilla said questions about one’s gender may discourage some from voting.
“There would be definite identification issues that I think would make people reluctant to go to the polls. If people don’t have IDs that match their appearance, they may decide not to vote,” she said.
She noted that the bill contains no safeguards to protect against situations that could arise, like those transgender individuals could face.
Padilla herself has faced conflicts at the polls — before her name change went into effect but after she began her transition.
“I think some people would just choose not to exercise their franchise because they’d be afraid of being outed,” she said. “And on the other side of the issue, the bill doesn’t take into account what would be done if there are problems at the polls. There are no educational efforts for poll workers and poll watchers, and no efforts to raise awareness about provisional ballots.”
Metcalfe said the bill is designed to combat voter fraud, but Hoover said that over the past several elections, only four people have been convicted of voter impersonation fraud among millions of ballots.
Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected]m.