FILE - PA voting 11-8-2016

Voters line up to cast their ballots Nov. 8, 2016, in the 2016 general election in Mount Pleasant Township, Pennsylvania.

(The Center Square) – A pair of Pennsylvania lawmakers said Friday that state residents themselves should decide the stringency of the state’s voter identification law.

The push comes after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he’d never support strengthening existing voter I.D. law – one of the top priorities for Republicans in their election reform proposal unveiled Thursday. 

Sen. Judy Ward, R-Hollidaysburg, and Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Williamsport, both support their party’s proposal to require identification each and every time a resident casts a ballot in-person. Current law stipulates identification only for first time voters in a precinct. 

The governor said voter I.D. laws serve only to disenfranchise and vowed, during a news conference Wednesday, to prevent future “barriers to voting” advocated for “by certain bad actors.”

Wheeland and Ward say it's a matter of enhancing security when faith in the electoral process is at an all-time low among their constituents.

“One way we can help maintain that security is by having individuals show identification each time they vote, instead of only showing it their first time at a new polling place,” Wheeland said. "This legislation would put that question to the voters and let them decide if that is a security measure they would like to put in place for future elections.”

Ward said letting the voters decide the question “removes the politics” from the decision and lets “residents take the lead.”

“Time and again, I hear from constituents who want to know why they need identification to buy cold medicine but not to choose their next Senator, township supervisor, judge or president,” she said. “Providing voters with the power to extend the need for identification beyond the first time someone votes at a polling place to every time they vote will go a long way toward restoring confidence in our election process.”

Constitutional amendments must pass in two consecutive legislative sessions before appearing on the ballot as a voter referendum. The earliest the I.D. question could appear before voters would be 2023, if the Legislature acts quickly.

Some constitutional amendments languish the General Assembly for a decade – or more.

Ward described the political climate as the most “charged” in her lifetime and urged “everyone to rise above” the rhetoric and “not fall victim to outside influences trying to stir emotion.”

“We have a responsibility to ensure that voters trust the election process and asking voters decide if requiring identification every time they vote will do just that,” she said.

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.