Voter identification laws are back in the news, and many of these laws directly affect college students. A new Tennessee law “explicitly excludes student IDs” as a valid photo ID to show at polls, and Wisconsin college students can’t use “university-provided housing lists or corroboration from other students to verify their residence.”
Republicans in state legislatures around the country claim that the new voter ID laws are designed to combat voter fraud. Now, I could understand why we should have a national conversation about preventing voter fraud if it really was a widespread problem. However, one recent analysis of election fraud cases found that since 2000, there have only been 10 cases of voter impersonation — out of 146 million registered voters in the United States. Prof. David Schultz of the Hamline University School of Business concluded, “There is absolutely no evidence that (voter impersonation fraud) has affected the outcome of any election in the United States, at least any recent election in the United States.”
Democrats and other critics have been up in arms about the new voter ID laws, claiming that Republicans are trying to reduce voter turnout among groups that tend to vote for Democratic candidates, including minority groups and college students. On Saturday, First Lady Michelle Obama went so far as to call the fight to ensure voting rights the “sit-in of our day.” If some Republican legislatures are deliberately making voting more difficult for specific groups of people for purely political reasons — which seems likely in many states since there have been so few cases of voter fraud — then these actions are reprehensible and unacceptable. But while Democrats’ claims might be true about some Republicans, we should be a little more cautious before we over-generalize.
Some Republican students at the University fully support implementing the new voter ID laws but also believe that states and universities can do more to provide assistance to the groups of people that are being adversely affected by these laws.
“I think that Michigan could pass a law that says the universities across the state need to help students navigate the process, help students know what the laws are, how they can register to vote, where they go to get their proper credentials,” said Jared Boot, an LSA senior and a member of the College Republicans.
The use of student IDs as photo identification at polls is another legitimate topic for consideration. Pulling out his MCard, LSA senior and College Republicans senior advisor Brian Koziara pointed out that there are “no security features to speak of.” Therefore, the Tennessee law may have some validity if student ID’s in Tennessee are similar to ours. At the same time, however, it’s perfectly legitimate for students in Wisconsin to use official housing lists from universities as verifications of their residences, since they live in these residence halls.
“We need to establish these rigorous (voter ID) laws and we need to make sure that we’re protecting the integrity of the ballot box,” Koziara said, “but if we’re going to do that, we have to make sure that we’re not preventing people who should be able to vote and who are eligible to vote from actually voting.”
While voter fraud isn’t a very persuasive justification for the new voter ID laws, it’s still just common sense that we should ensure that the people who are voting are actually allowed to vote. At the same time, however, if states are going to make voting more inconvenient for groups of people that are legally allowed to vote but may not have the means to adapt to the new voting requirements, states need to provide some kind of extra assistance for these people, such as transportation to places that provide the required IDs or paperwork — as Koziara suggested earlier this week — or more accessible information about the proper voting process, as Boot mentioned. If states can’t give these voters adequate assistance, then they should make their voter ID laws less stringent or eliminate them altogether.
Until all states implement these voter ID reforms, we should still object to the existing voter ID laws that are genuinely unfair to college students and other minority groups because there isn’t a proper balance right now. Many states’ voter ID laws are deterring citizens from voting without providing extra assistance to make up for these difficulties. Right now, more people are being hurt than helped.
No matter which state enacts unreasonable voter ID laws, all students should stand together in opposition until there is sufficient assistance to go along with these laws.
Michael Spaeth can be reached at email@example.com.