Election 2020

Do you need photo ID to vote in PA? No, but first-timers and mail voters do need identification

Details on who needs to show what kind of proof when voting in Pennsylvania.

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Sydney Schaefer / Billy Penn
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If you go to a polling place to cast your vote in person, will you be required to show ID?

The short answer is no.

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


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If you’re a first-timer in a certain district, you will be required to provide some kind of identification by poll workers. It can be either have a photo or be another approved form. However, 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.

Here’s the state’s list of approved identification you can use if it’s your first time at a location.

What about mail ballot voting? You also must validate your identification for that, but again, photo ID is not required. This is true whether you apply for a ballot online or at a county board of election office (or satellite office).

Approved photo ID for in-person voting

  • Pennsylvania driver’s license or PennDOT ID card
  • ID issued by any commonwealth agency
  • ID issued by the U.S. government
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. armed forces ID
  • Student ID
  • Employee ID

Approved non-photo ID for in-person voting

(Must show name and address)

  • Confirmation issued by the county Voter Registration Office
  • Non-photo ID issued by the commonwealth
  • Non-photo ID issued by the U.S. government
  • Firearm permit
  • Current utility bill
  • Current bank statement
  • Current paycheck
  • Government check

Approved ID for for mail ballot application

  • Pennsylvania driver’s license or PennDOT ID card
  • Last 4 digits of your Social Security number
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. military ID (Active duty and retired ID may designate an expiration date that is indefinite; dependents’ ID must contain a current expiration date)
  • Employee photo identification issued by federal, Pennsylvania, county, or municipal government
  • Photo ID issued by an accredited Pa. institution of higher learning
  • Photo ID issued by a Pa. care facility (long-term care, assisted living residences, personal care homes)

A brief history of Pennsylvania’s recent controversy over voter ID

Despite there not being any photo requirement, you might have someone tell you they’re you need identification to vote, even if it’s not your first time at a location.

That might be because in 2012, the commonwealth did implement a voter ID clause. It tried, anyway, until the law got shot down in court. Here’s the history

March 2012

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

The signing was done in ASAP fashion, just hours after the Pa. House passed the bill. That had come only about a week after the state Senate approved it, so the whole thing was turned around with unusual speed.

The bill passed 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 welfare cards and school district employee cards as verification, and college IDs without an expiration date.

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

April 2012

Pennsylvania gave the law a “trial run” in the primaries. During that election, voters were asked for identification but 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 and in candidate Mitt Romney’s column in the 2012 presidential election.

This was, obviously, a major gaffe on his part. 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.

August 2012

Several organizations, including the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the Homeless Advocacy Project challenged the law in court, arguing that it would disenfranchise voters who might not have or might be unable to obtain the proper photo ID.

The case landed in front of a Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, a Republican, who upheld the voter ID requirement. His ruling said the “burden” of getting the proper identification did not outweigh the anti-fraud benefits, and that the challengers had not clearly proved the law would in fact deny voters’ rights, violating the constitution.

September 2012

The case was appealed to the Pa. Supreme Court, which decided that no matter whether the law was eventually found to be constitutional or not, there was the calendar to consider.

With the Nov. 2016 elections just months away, the Supreme Court asked, would Pennsylvania really be able to get proper IDs to all voters in time? It remanded the case back to Simpson, asking him to hold hearings on the matter and return with an answer by Oct. 2.

October 2012

Simpson came to the conclusion that the time crunch might be too difficult to surmount, and ordered state elections officials not to enforce the law in the upcoming election.

This effectively extended the “trial run” instituted back in April’s primaries, although Simpson’s ruling did allow some parts of the new law to stand. The state was allowed to continue efforts to educate citizens that a photo ID would be a voting requirement, and also allowed election officials to ask for a photo ID, even though it wasn’t required.

January 2014

The law was not significantly addressed in court again until the next statewide primary elections encroached, one and a half years later.

This time around, the case fell to a different judge, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley. Unlike Simpson’s  inconclusive “well, there’s not enough time to enact this” decision, McGinley’s ruling was much more definitive. The law, he said, was unnecessarily restrictive, and it violated the state constitution because it “unreasonably burdens the right to vote.”

“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election,” McGinley’s decision stated. “The Voter ID Law does not further this goal.”

That ruling from four years ago still governs Pennsylvania’s current election procedure. As the state’s official guidance on voter ID says:

In 2014, the Commonwealth Court held that the in-person proof of identification requirements enacted under Act 18 of 2012 were unconstitutional. Those provisions are no longer in force even though you may see them in Pennsylvania’s Election Code.

Want some more? Explore other Election 2020 stories.

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Voting, Elections