There’s No Need for More Voter ID Requirements in PA

Susan Gobreski |


Additional voter ID requirements would restrict the forms of personal identification voters can use to register and to vote, which would reduce voter participation, especially among marginalized communities.

Analysis has shown that voter ID laws have a disproportionate impact on certain groups of people, including older adults, people with lower incomes, people of color, and those with disabilities.[1]  These groups are often less likely to have[2], or need, certain types of identification and may face barriers to obtaining it, such as a lack of access to transportation or the time and costs needed to obtain the necessary paperwork.

In addition to reducing access to the polls, voter ID laws can also create confusion and undermine public confidence in the electoral process, particularly if they are implemented poorly or with inadequate public education and outreach.

Pennsylvania already has identification requirements

It is important to note that Pennsylvania already HAS voter identification requirements. You must verify your identity when you register to vote and when you vote either for the first time or at a new location (i.e., those who’ve recently moved). The policy has been in place since a court case over a decade ago, and it has been effective.

From the Pennsylvania Department of State website: When you vote for the first time in your election district, you must show a form of identification.

Approved forms of photo identification include:

  • Pennsylvania driver’s license or PennDOT ID card
  • ID issued by any Commonwealth agency
  • ID issued by the U.S. Government
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. Armed Forces ID
  • Student ID
  • Employee ID

If you do not have a photo ID, you can use a form of non-photo identification that includes name and address:

  • Confirmation issued by the County Voter Registration Office
  • Non-photo ID issued by the Commonwealth
  • Non-photo ID issued by the U.S. Government
  • Firearm permit
  • Current utility bill
  • Current bank statement
  • Current paycheck
  • Government check

The harm of restrictive voter identification

The potential harm of enacting a stricter voter ID policy is significant. Stricter than necessary requirements can reduce voter participation, especially among communities that have been marginalized or that have historically experienced exclusion from voting and other civic institutions. These barriers have left a legacy that continues. For example, some communities don’t have the same access to state and municipal services due to racist policies that make those services harder to access.

These laws are usually politically motivated and are designed to suppress the votes of people in certain groups who are more likely to vote for certain candidates or parties.

Additionally, there are many modern challenges that exacerbate the problem of voter ID requirements. For example, many younger and older people don’t drive and have no need for a license or even a state-issued non-driver’s ID. Work and child care schedules can make it harder to find time to obtain an ID that people might only need for the purpose of voting. Maintaining an otherwise unneeded ID that may have a time or financial cost will keep some people from voting. Restrictive voter ID requirements also create the potential for a suppressive effect by creating confusion for voters. People may stay home because they assume that they may not have, or not be able to get, the proper ID, even if they have it already.

Proposals to add more requirements for voting by mail add new potential problems, including issues with the potential for identity theft if personal documents must be mailed, access to copy machines, mail costs, and the potential for election administration errors in processing copied documents.

Furthermore, the alleged justification of preventing fraud is vastly overstated — in the United States, there is little evidence of widespread voter fraud in any form and even less where identification is the problem.

In Pennsylvania last year, there were only 4 (not 400 or 40…just 4) verified cases.[3] In those cases, someone tried to vote on behalf of a deceased family member, which was discovered when counties processed the removal of the deceased from the voter rolls.

The county and state voter registration systems verify voter registrations: registrations are checked against other states, deceased voters are removed regularly, and people must confirm their identity when they vote for the first time or at a new location, as well as make a legal affirmation with a signature every time they vote.

There is little potential benefit from any of the proposed voter ID policies and significant potential harm to voters’ rights and their access to the ballot.

Several bad proposals have been introduced in the recent session of the legislature, and at least one proposal has been proposed in early 2023. It needs to stop.

In the last session of the legislature, there were several proposals for a restrictive voter identification system in the General Assembly and then a proposed effort to amend the Constitution after the governor vetoed a bill (which had many bad policy ideas in it) that included it. This is a very inappropriate and poor use of the constitutional amendment process, which should be used to protect rights and should not be used for making administrative rules of any kind.

We will continue to oppose policies that make it harder for eligible electors to vote, especially ones rooted in historic racism and efforts to keep some groups from voting. Pennsylvania has a balanced identification system. We should keep the current policy and focus instead on policies that help improve voter access.