Pennsylvania Republicans want to change the state’s voting laws, but they have one major hurdle: Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
So instead of mounting a legislative campaign that could sway some of their Democratic colleagues and potentially avoid Wolf’s veto pen, they’re resorting to what has traditionally been a little-used tactic to amend the state constitution.
In order to enact stricter voter ID requirements, GOP lawmakers will undertake a constitutional amendment process that requires passing the law twice in two consecutive two-year sessions and then putting the issue to voters in a statewide ballot initiative.
“The Republicans don’t want to go through the legislative process for their far-right wacky ideas because they know the governor will veto it,” Democratic state Sen. Vincent Hughes told NPR. “So now they’re just going to change the constitution.”
Months of GOP-led hearings on the 2020 elections revealed no systemic voter fraud in the Keystone State. Nonetheless, Republican lawmakers sought to pass a sweeping overhaul of state elections that drew a veto threat from Wolf. They have subsequently seized on passing a single part of that voting package—a stringent voter ID requirement—through the constitutional amendment process. The amendment itself is much more restrictive than what was in the original bill, according to NPR.
While the omnibus bill would allow several ID options beyond a state-issued driver’s license or ID card, the amendment would only permit “valid government-issued identification” or, if a voter isn’t casting a ballot in person, “proof” of that identification.
This isn’t the Pennsylvania GOP’s first foray into trying to restrict voter access to the ballot box. The Republican-controlled legislature passed a similar law in 2012 that was ultimately thrown out of the state courts.
In Michigan, another state that proved pivotal in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential contests, the Republican-controlled legislature is facing a similar hurdle from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has pledged to veto a package of 39 new bills mainly designed to restrict voting rights in the state. Three of those bills recently passed by the Senate on a party-line vote would place stricter voter ID requirements on both in-person and absentee voting, which skyrocketed amid the pandemic, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Lacking a veto-proof majority, Republicans are turning to a loophole in Michigan state law that would allow them to bypass the governor and even voters—who overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure in 2018 expanding no-reason absentee voting. To do so, Republicans plan to pay local county officials to execute a petition drive that would gather 340,047 voter signatures (10% of the vote in the last governor’s election) in support of the ID requirements. Republicans could then bypass a gubernatorial veto by passing the initiative by a majority vote in both chambers.
The GOP’s voter suppression efforts have already drawn widespread pushback from the state’s business community and activated voting rights advocates.
“We are very alarmed,” Nancy Wang, executive director of the statewide organization Voters Not Politicians, told The Washington Post. Wang’s group led a successful effort several years ago to create an independent redistricting commission in Michigan.
“We are full-bore mobilizing, putting our field team back together to organize a grass-roots organization,” she said. “We expect they will be out there with petitions saying this is for election security. But we will be there educating voters telling them what this is really about: suppressing the vote.”
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