According to Article 1, Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, “Elections shall be free and equal; and no power civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.”
For three long days, the House debated a bill that ignores Article 1, Section 5, and could suppress the votes of nearly 700,000 Pennsylvanians. I spoke out and voted against the bill because I believe voting is a fundamental constitutional right, not a privilege.
Although Democrats unanimously voted against it, the bill (H.B. 934) passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. A few hours later, Gov. Tom Corbett signed the voter ID bill, threatening the constitutionally protected right to vote.
Democrats voted against the bill because we want to protect the right to vote and want to focus on real issues, such as job creation and undoing Corbett’s cuts to education and health care. Instead, Republicans wasted taxpayer time debating an unnecessary bill that not only suppresses voters, but also threatens Pennsylvania’s economy.
The House Appropriations Committee estimated that it would cost around $4.3 million to give voters a free photo ID to vote, as required by federal law. However, all taxpayers will be paying for these “free” IDs – and estimates of the true cost of this discriminatory, unnecessary law range as high as $11 million.
This law will have the most impact on the working poor, people of color, young people, senior citizens and people with disabilities. To give just one example, in last month’s Ohio primary election, an 86-year-old veteran was denied his right to vote because he lacked photo ID. As a veteran myself, I find that outrageous.
One estimate holds that 11 percent of Americans do not have a state- or federal-government-issued identification. That is more than 21 million American citizens who potentially would be turned away from polls because they cannot afford or need a driver’s license or passport.
I believe this legislation is a modern-day poll tax to silence the voices of the elderly, low-income people, minorities, people with disabilities and young people. Therefore, I support the House Democratic leadership and my Senate Democratic colleagues in their declared intention to go to court to prevent the enacted voter suppression law/poll tax. While I hope we will be successful in court, I urge any voter who lacks a photo ID to begin the process now to obtain one. Please contact my office at 412-471-7760 if you have any questions about this.