SELINSGROVE -- The two state senators who represent the Valley voted in favor of a bill to require Pennsylvanians to show photo identification before they can cast ballots, both noting there are few actions today that don't require some such proof.
State Sens. John Gordner, R-27 of Berwick, and Gene Yaw, R-23 of Williamsport, both cited keeping the integrity of elections intact and avoiding voter fraud among reasons for their "yes" votes for House Bill 934. It passed 26-23, mostly along party lines, in the state Senate on Wednesday after several hours of debate.
Pennsylvania is following a national trend in adopting the bill, Gordner said Thursday after the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce awards lunch at Susquehanna University.
Indeed, if Gov. Tom Corbett signs the bill -- his administration favors it -- the commonwealth will become the 16th state to have a voter ID law.
"Banks, hotels, travel, there are few places where you don't need a photo ID anymore," Gordner said.
Because Pennsylvania will adopt the law in a federal election year, Gordner said the state qualifies for a federal grant, as much as $4 million, under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 that can go to defray costs of implementing the law.
Estimates for putting the law into action here have varied from $4 million to $11 million.
"Once (the law) is signed, we will apply and use the funds to educate voters and poll workers" about the change, Gordner said.
Those funds also could cover the state's expense for photo identifications issued free of charge to anyone who asks for one at a state driver's license center. Carol Aichele, Pennsylvania's secretary of state, said this could cost the state about $1 million.
The bill goes before the state House to approve amendments the Senate made, Yaw said. Among its actions, the Senate broadened what is considered an acceptable photo ID.
For instance, student IDs issued within the last year would count. Also sufficient, forms from nursing homes that use any photo on them.
"I think it's pretty liberal as to what qualifies as a photo ID," Yaw said, "but it is a photo ID, and you must have one."
Yaw agreed with Gordner on the ID requirement "for virtually everything you do today," he said. "I don't think showing ID to exercise one of the most fundamental rights in the United States is a burden. I don't buy it that it's a burden."
Some organizations, including the AARP and the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, decry the bill as disenfranchising voters in poor areas and the elderly, both groups that are less likely to have photo ID.
In rural areas, such as the Valley, some question the need for voter ID, especially among senior citizens, who likely use the same polling place they have for decades and are known to regular poll workers, and also may simply resent having to show proof of identification.
"That came up in one of the proposed amendments," Yaw said. "If a member of the election board can vouch for this person, shouldn't they be allowed to vote" if they have no ID, he said. "Under the law, the answer is they should let (people) vote provisionally."
Voters who submit a provisional ballot then have six days to provide their photo IDs.
The amended bill is expected to reach Corbett's desk within a week or two.