HARRISBURG -- Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law Wednesday night a bill requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls in November.
The signing came hours after the General Assembly cleared the bill.
Voters at the April primary polls will be asked to show photo identification but can still cast ballots without it. During a signing ceremony at the Capitol, Mr. Corbett, a Republican, described the requirement as "a law of prevention" that would ensure fair elections.
"I believe what you will see is increased participation, because that's what we've seen many other times when voter ID laws were imposed," he said. "I think you measure it by hopefully increased voter participation, and when people understand that they have to show their photo ID, they come back with their photo ID or they send it in after they did a provisional ballot."
Pennsylvania joins four states requiring photo identification from voters and six more with some photo identification provision, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Those figures exclude Texas, which the U.S. Justice Department on Monday blocked from enforcing a photo identification law, and Wisconsin, where a state judge on the same day found another photo identification law unconstitutional. Three additional states, according to the NCSL, will require photo identification if their laws are cleared under a provision of the Voting Rights Act that applies to districts with a history of suppressing minority voting.
Pennsylvania Democrats spent a third day protesting the this state's legislation from the House floor, claiming the requirement would stifle legitimate voting by the poor, elderly and minorities, but they were unable to stop the bill. It passed, 104-88, with three Republicans joining the Democrats in opposition.
House Democrats said they will challenge the law in court in an attempt to prevent it from taking effect before the April primaries. Senate Democrats and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union already have said they intend to file suit.
"This is a very thinly veiled attempt to really manipulate the electoral process for partisan purposes." said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods defended the measure as an attempt to ensure the legitimacy of the vote. He said the bill was modeled on an Indiana law that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It's clear that this statute will withstand any scrutiny, and it also is a commonsense measure," Mr. Turzai told reporters after the vote.
Bruce Ledewitz, a professor of constitutional law at Duquesne Law School, said the Pennsylvania Constitution appears to allow the new law. The relevant section of the constitution has been interpreted to mean the Legislature cannot take the vote away from a group who otherwise is qualified to vote, he said.
"The Legislature has not said you cannot vote if you don't have a photo ID," he said. "The Legislature has said you can vote, but you have to prove who you are."
Mr. Ledewitz pointed to an opinion of the state Supreme Court calling it the duty of the Legislature to "prescribe the mode of ascertaining who are the qualified electors."
"It seems to point directly to laws regulating the exercise of franchises, including determining who you are," he said.
The Pennsylvania law requires voters to present identification issued by the state or federal governments or a Pennsylvania university, nursing home, county or municipality. Starting in November, a person without identification can cast a provisional ballot that would become valid if they verify their identity within six days.
While Democrats and civil rights activists argue that the requirement to obtain identification imposes a burden on the poor, supporters counter that an identification card will be made available through the state Department of Transportation at no cost to the voter. Previously, voters were required to show identification, but not necessarily photo identification, the first time they voted in a precinct.
The Pennsylvania campaign for President Barack Obama issued a statement after the signing promising to help educate voters about the new law.
Laura Olson contributed to this report. Karen Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-2141