By MARK SCOLFORO
10:26 PM EDT, June 23, 2011
Republicans in the state House of Representatives were poised to approve a government-issued photo ID mandate for Pennsylvania voters Thursday, a proposal Democrats criticized in stark terms during a debate they were almost certain to lose.
"This very measure goes against the grain of democracy, and I ask my colleagues to look deeply into their own souls, to stand by democracy and to vote 'no' on this outrageous proposal," said Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Northampton.
Democrats did most of the talking during hours of floor debate, as even the bill's Republican sponsor, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County, declined to answer questions from several members about the proposal.
"Many of these requests for interrogations are nothing more than obstructionist tactics," Metcalfe said.
On Democratic procedural motions the majority Republican caucus held ranks, a strong indication the bill would eventually pass and be sent to the Senate.
Supporters say the measure is needed to prevent people from casting illegal votes, while opponents say there was no evidence of significant voter fraud in the state, and predict the bill will lower turnout rates among the elderly and minorities.
Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, said about 700,000 Pennsylvanians lack photo identification, and nearly half of them are seniors. Under the bill, a free photo ID would be available through the state Department of Transportation.
Frankel said the goal was to prevent certain people from voting.
"I can only hope these same people will be motivated in an extraordinary way, and say, 'We're not going to stand for this, and we will look at what is about to happen here and take accountability on Election Day."'
The bill would allow people without sufficient identification to cast provisional ballots, then return to the county courthouse within six days to prove who they are. Current law only mandates photo ID for people when the vote in a polling place for the first time.
Democrats said the law only allows provisional ballots for people who are indigent, which they said was another reason it was not constitutional.
Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, said the bill would not withstand a court challenge to its constitutionality, in part because it exempts people who live in nursing homes that also serve as polling places.
Metcalfe said the Legislature has ample authority to regulate elections.
"If this would be unconstitutional, then it would certainly follow logically that showing ID the very first time you have to vote also would be unconstitutional," Metcalfe responded.
After several hours of debate, the House recessed until later Thursday evening.