By Beth Allen and Sofia Miller
The use of various forms of identification as Voter identification (Voter ID) has been hotly debated in recent years. With increasing restrictions on what makes up a valid ID, many younger adults are struggling to keep up with changing rules and regulations. Many students are voting for the first time on college campuses, and they often navigate the confusing world of voter registration and identification alone. Making campus student IDs into voter IDs would lessen the burden placed on many college students. While changing the requirements for a voter ID would be useful, making student IDs into voter IDs would be a more effective solution to this prevalent problem. This memo concentrates on Wisconsin voter ID laws with a reflection and inclusion of the national standards, as Wisconsin is one of 17 states with “stricter voter ID laws.5” Many states including Arizona, Texas, Iowa, Ohio, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Tennessee do not accept student IDs as voter IDs at all5.
The twenty-sixth amendment, ratified in 1971, states that “the right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.1” The amendment was intended to remove barriers for the youth vote and encourage civic participation. In Wisconsin, for example, University-aged voters who range from age 18-24, made up 48% of the voter population in 2020. Despite the promise of voter rights, student voters still face barriers to election participation, most commonly navigating the complex voter identification laws. Wisconsin state restrictions on the use of student IDs as acceptable voter IDs have perpetuated voting barriers for all University students, both in-state and out. The passage of stricter voter ID laws sends a message to certain voter demographics, particularly student voters, that the voting process is difficult or impossible for them to engage. Although mixed evidence exists on the empirical data associated with voter turnout in relation to voter ID laws, it can be argued that a burden is placed on certain communities, particularly low-income or minority groups including students, to produce an acceptable ID based on the strict guidelines. The State Legislature’s passage of Act 23 in 2011 imposed stricter laws limiting voter identification methods, and thereby, student participation3.
A study of the American National Elections in 2012 exposed the consequences of legislative barriers such as stricter voter ID standards when 15% of 17-20 year-olds and 11% of 21-24 year-olds reported not possessing proper identification for their state, leaving them unable to vote. In 2011, a Wisconsin statute was passed that allows students to use their student IDs as voter IDs, although only three of twenty-six public universities in Wisconsin benefitted from this4. The ID cards must include an issue date, expiration date, photo ID, and signature to be valid for voting. Wisconsin’s flagship school, containing the highest number of student voters, does not offer student IDs that comply with these requirements, thus leaving many students to be turned away at the polls. In an effort to encourage student voters, some Wisconsin universities have begun printing temporary voter ID cards for students that include proof of enrollment, but this still requires students to seek out this extra ID independently. Without a change in policy regarding voter IDs, students will be unmotivated or unable to vote in upcoming elections, which is a serious violation of the foundation of our democracy, however, some argue these ID requirements ensure election security.
- Lobbying State Policy on ID Requirements: Lobbying state voter registration and voter ID laws will encourage more, possibly previously ineligible, voters to participate in local and national elections. If adjusted, less complex voter ID laws will allow more eligible voters to vote. Completing the voting process once will also help solidify life-long civic participation. Adjusting the expiration date for student IDs and expanding it beyond two years will also increase participation. In addition, removing mandatory proof of enrollment with student IDs to vote will eliminate one more step in their registration process. Current policy eliminates most colleges from distributing voter compliant IDs in the form of student IDs because they do not include necessary elements to validate identification. Allowing all student IDs to be voter compliant nationally requires all states to lobby against their local representatives and their university administration. Impractical
- University Distribution of New IDs: To increase accessibility to proper voter ID, students should receive a university-supplemented ID that includes all of the requirements. Another way to increase accessibility if voter ID laws change would be to make the student IDs valid for longer than two years so students can use them to vote for a longer period. If current voter ID laws remain, the University could make student IDs valid for two years to comply with state standards. To combat the cost of printing IDs, an opt-in program can be implemented so only interested students can receive IDs upon request.
Increasing ID Accessibility Electronically: Universities should consider supplying low-cost virtual identification with the required information listed by the state. The University of Wisconsin Madison has argued change in their student IDs to make them voter compliant raises cost issues as well as confusion for international students. Creating the option for an online signature for student voters seeking identification will allow for faster and cheaper distribution of the new voter-compliant student IDs. To combat the cost of printing IDs, they can be presented virtually or electronically. In addition, student IDs could be phased out over time and replaced with the new voter-compliant IDs to reduce university costs. New student IDs should also include proof of enrollment to prevent the need for separate verification. Be clear in discussing strategy implementation: are you proposing a multi-step strategy/solution? Are there unknowns or contingencies that might arise in a way that may alter the course?
Overall, existing voter ID laws restrict and infringe upon the voting rights of college students. Jay Heck, the executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin summarizes this argument by stating Wisconsin ID requirements (in particular) are a violation of the constitutional rights of young people because they are forced to ‘jump through more hoops unnecessarily.5” Creating a voter-ID compliant form of student ID would increase the options of usable identification for college-aged voters and encourage civic engagement. The laws limiting forms of voter identification must be lobbied and Universities in Wisconsin need to help students uphold their rights by abiding by the strict voter ID codes to make student IDs voter compliant.
Changing the law is the most effective way to increase voting accessibility and voter turnout for college students. College students represent a key demographic in shifting American politics. Understanding how to aid the voting process for this population will have an impact on voter participation and civic engagement for generations to come. Students’ voting habits inform their civic participation in the future. Changing the laws stipulating requirements for voter IDs will aid future generations of voters by decreasing barriers to voting for students. College-age students are a large demographic group who hold significant political power. A change in laws will reduce the existing power imbalance and aid voters in the present and future.
“Election Week 2020: Young People Increase Turnout, Lead Biden to Victory.” Circle at Tufts, 25 Nov. 2020, circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/election-week-2020#the-youth-vote-state-by-state.
“Number of Voters as a Share of the Voter Population, by Age.” KFF, 22 May 2019, www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/number-of-individuals-who-voted-in-thousands-and-individuals-who-voted-as-a-share-of-the-voter-population-by-age/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22%3A%22Location%22%2C%22sort%22%3A%22asc%22%7D.
Wisconsin Legislature: 2011 Wisconsin Act 23, 2011, docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2011/related/acts/23.
“Voter Suppression Barriers for College Students by State.” Findlaw, 30 July 2020, www.findlaw.com/voting/how-do-i-protect-my-right-to-vote-/voter-suppression-and-college-students.html.Watch, Kayla Huynh | Wisconsin. “Wisconsin Erected Barriers To College Voters. The Pandemic Added More.” Wisconsin Public Radio, 22 June 2020, www.wpr.org/wisconsin-erected-barriers-college-voters-pandemic-added-more.
Watch, Kayla Huynh | Wisconsin. “Wisconsin Erected Barriers To College Voters. The Pandemic Added More.” Wisconsin Public Radio, 22 June 2020, www.wpr.org/wisconsin-erected-barriers-college-voters-pandemic-added-more.