Stand Strong, Students: “The Price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance”

By Guest Blogger

With millions of voters potentially impacted by new, restrictive voter ID laws, the question of why such laws are being enacted has a simple answer: to sway elections by only counting a portion of our citizens’ votes. This is especially true when it comes to student voters, one of the most underrepresented demographics at the ballot box, and female voters, who make up the majority of college students.

Many states have already begun to issue laws requiring students to show a government-issued photo ID before casting their ballots at the polls this November. Proponents of such laws claim these restrictive laws will reduce “voter fraud.” In truth, “one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law.

Why are voter ID (aka voter suppression) laws cutting students out of democracy? Because these restrictive statutes place new, burdensome requirements on voters to have government-issued identification cards (e.g. driver’s licenses, ID cards, etc.) with their current address, many, many students will be essentially disenfranchised. And students aren’t the only population that will be affected – low income voters, communities of color, women and the elderly will also be negatively affected.

Students are an incredibly mobile population. Every year—and in some cases, each semester—students move from one dorm to another, one apartment to another, etc. If students have a drivers’ license or government ID card, it is usually with their parents’ or permanent address (rather than their school one). As a result, most students who try to register and vote on campuses in states with restrictive voter ID laws will not be able to do so unless they get a brand new driver’s license or government-issued photo ID with their school address.

This may not seem like a big deal. But how many students have the time, money and/or transportation to go get a new driver’s license or government ID card before Election Day? Few to none, as shown in a Tennessee case study.

U.S. Supreme Court decision Symm v. United States  guarantees students, and other highly mobile populations like military personnel, the right to register and vote where they go to school (or are stationed temporarily). In stark contrast, these new restrictive laws create confusion and onerous obstacles for students trying to exercise their right to register and vote. Instead of making it more difficult for students to vote, proponents of democracy should be making it easier for students to vote, especially since we remain a grossly underrepresented segment of the electorate.

To conform to these new requirements, many students (in the states identified below) will need to secure adequate ID before voting where they go to school. (Be sure to check your Secretary of State’s official website for your state’s ID requirements to both register to vote and to actually cast your ballot on Election Day.)

Just to make matters more challenging, many states have early voter registration deadlines, giving students a very short window from their back-to-school start dates to even be able to register in their college locale.

Ultimately, requiring college students to obtain government-issued photo ID’s where they attend school means that the majority will be out of luck. Check the information below, courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures, to see if your campus community might be disenfranchised by suppressive voter ID laws this Fall.

If your state is not listed below, it currently has no voter ID requirements for the 2012 election that we know of. However, be sure to check your Secretary of State’s official website for the most current and detailed information on voter ID laws in your state.

States Requiring Government-issued Driver’s License or Photo ID for the 2012 Election:

  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Kansas
  • Georgia
  • Indiana

States Requiring Government-issued Photo ID for the 2012 Election:

  • Michigan
  • Louisiana
  • Hawaii
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • South Dakota

States Requiring Non-Photo ID for the 2012 Election:

  • Rhode Island
  • Ohio
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Virginia
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • Alabama
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Arkansas
  • Oklahoma
  • Colorado
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Montana
  • North Dakota
  • Alaska

Of the 29 states listed, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Minnesota, Michigan, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Wisconsin allow a student ID as an option for the photo ID requirement on election day, given students have already updated their voter registration to their college addresses. Unfortunately, Arizona stands in a class of its own, as proof of citizenship (or an Arizona driver’s license) must be provided in order to register to vote in the state.

So what can you do? Educate yourself on your state’s voting laws so that you can obtain adequate ID if necessary and register in time. Pledge to mobilize your campus community to overcome these obstacles by joining the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Get Out Her Vote (GOHV) Campaign. Read, link, and/or share the FMF’s GOHV kit with your friends. Connect GOHV with your student government and get involved on campus.

Whatever you do, stand strong, students.  Let your voices be heard this November!

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