So it's reasonable to ask what a Pennsylvania ID will actually get the voters compared with their counterparts in other states. Sadly, the answer is that the card in their wallets won't get them very much.
A Pennsylvania license to vote comes with less flexibility, more limitations, and fewer options than almost any other state's. The commonwealth's voters have relatively little electoral power in their wallets.
Like credit card holders saddled with fine-print restrictions, Pennsylvania voters are all too familiar with the "blackout periods" when their ID cards won't work. Unlike the many states that have expanded their periods and methods for casting ballots, Pennsylvania has failed to embrace greater voting opportunities, including early and mail-in voting. And unlike states where previously unregistered voters can show an ID on Election Day and vote immediately, Pennsylvania continues to make people register at least a month before an election takes place.
Nor does a Pennsylvania ID grant the access to key policy decisions that voters in dozens of other states enjoy. Residents of California, Massachusetts, and other states can vote on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to marijuana legalization, but Pennsylvanians have no power to cast ballots on statewide referendums or initiatives.
Similarly, residents of the Keystone State cannot participate in recall elections as voters in many other states do. While recalls can be messy, as we recently saw in Wisconsin, they can be a valuable means of holding government officials accountable.
Pennsylvania voters are also fairly limited when it comes to meaningful choices. Over-the-top gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts has left most of the state's voters with uncompetitive races. If the outcome of an election is a foregone conclusion, a voter may find himself wondering if it's even worth the effort to dig that card out of his wallet.
In addition, the late dates of our presidential primaries make our votes in those races largely irrelevant. Even in the heated 2008 Democratic contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, when Pennsylvania's primary drew much more attention than it usually does, the battle was really over by the time we got our opportunity to weigh in.
If you're an independent voter, meanwhile, a Pennsylvania ID will get you even less. Sure, you can break it out of your wallet on Election Day along with everyone else, but given the closed-primary system in place, good luck trying to find a race you can actually vote in.
A recent study by the National Constitution Center and Penn State found that Pennsylvanians are among the least politically engaged citizens in the nation. It found that the commonwealth's residents are less likely to discuss politics than those of any other state, and that they are in the bottom third in voter turnout.
Given our less-than-engaging political offerings, one might argue that we reap what we sow. The state has never gone out of its way to give residents electoral experiences that would engender engagement, and Pennsylvanians have therefore regularly turned away from the cornerstone of citizenship that is voting. Of course, the voter-ID law will only exacerbate this condition.
It's reasonable to ask why the time, effort, and resources the state is committing to checking our IDs at the polls wasn't instead spent on expanding the opportunities and real choices that commonwealth voters enjoy. Maybe our leaders in Harrisburg simply aren't that interested in an engaged and powerful electorate.
If the governor and legislature really care about making votes matter, they should make sure the ID cards in our wallets are worth something on Election Day.
Christopher Borick is an associate professor of political science and the director of the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.