No, you don’t need photo ID to vote in Pa.: A brief history of why that’s confusing

Remember that 2012 law?

vote election 16×9
justgrimes / flickr

Aside from your standard election preparation — reading up on candidates’ platforms, finding out who’s endorsed them, considering their qualifications, all that good stuff — one other question is key:

When you get to your polling place on May 15 to cast your vote in the primary, will you be required to show ID?

The short answer is no.

You do not need to show photo ID to vote in Pennsylvania.

It’s worth noting that if you’re voting in a new-to-you district, you will be required to provide some kind of identification by poll workers, either photo-bearing or non. (Here’s a list of documents you can use for that, from driver’s license to utility bill.)

And if you’re an absentee voter, you also must validate your identification. (Know the last four digits of your social security number? You’re covered.)

But if you’re returning to the same polling location as before, not only can you skip photo ID, but poll workers aren’t even allowed to ask you for it.

Despite that, you might glimpse old signage that seems to suggest photo ID is required, or an acquaintance might tell you they’re sure they once needed identification to vote.

That’s because in 2012, the state implemented a voter ID requirement. It tried, anyway, until the law got shot down in court.

Here’s a brief history of Pennsylvania’s recent controversy over voter ID.

March 2012

Then-Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, signed into law a bill that would require voters to present valid photo ID at the polls.

The bill passed with unusual speed almost entirely on party lines: the entire Democratic caucus voted against it, and all but three Republicans voted in favor. The bill’s supporters argued the law would improve the security of elections despite Pennsylvania never having recorded any reports of voter fraud.

The law was one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country — certainly the strictest in any state expected to be competitive in that year’s presidential race. It disallowed using welfare cards, school district employee cards and college IDs without an expiration date.

Experts estimated it would disenfranchise at least 9 percent of Pennsylvanians, and other reports argued it would disproportionately affect people of color.

April 2012

Pennsylvania gave the law a “trial run” in the primary. During that election, voters were asked for identification but were not turned away if they couldn’t provide it.

June 2012

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican representing Allegheny County, was caught on video saying the law could help swing the state red for candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.

The bill was signed into law on the premise that it would lower voter fraud, not provide political gain for one party over the other.