Throughout our lives we’re told about how great democracy is, and how wonderful it is that we will one day have the ability to vote for our leaders. But as states begin to introduce stricter voter ID laws meant to crack down on voter fraud, our ability to use student ID cards as valid identification is slipping away. For some that means their right to vote is slipping away right along with it.
As young people, our vote matters in a big way – we’ll be the ones running the country in just a few years. If we can’t get our voice out there, if we can’t tell our government what we think of laws, or who we want to run the country then how can we begin implementing whatever changes we believe in?
Last year, Texas introduced Senate Bill 14, which would enact a stricter photo ID law. It would have only allowed five very specific IDs to be used: a drivers license or a personal ID issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety, a handgun permit, a U.S. military ID, a U.S. citizenship certificate with a photo, or a U.S. passport. A student ID would be considered invalid under this law.
Although the bill failed to pass pre-clearance–a mandatory process where a federal court must review bills that make changes to state voting laws, as stated in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a similar bill in Tennessee was passed. Under the law student ID cards are considered an unacceptable form of identification. What does that mean for students in Tennessee?
For any student who doesn’t have a valid photo ID, it means they either get a valid ID, or they don’t vote. Tennessee does offer free voter ID, but to get it the applicant needs their birth certificate.
And to get a birth certificate? They need a government-issued photo ID, so students find themselves in a predicament.
Voter fraud, which was reported in an analysis of the subject by the Brennan Center for Justice with NYU to have happened only .0009 percent of the time in a 2004 Washington State gubernatorial election. For comparison, a person is about as likely to be killed by lightning. Voter identification is important, but when fraud is so rare, it’s hardly necessary to have so few valid ID options.
The process is even harder for out-of-state students, who may not be able to vote at all if their home state doesn’t allow absentee ballots. Under Tennessee’s new law, only Tennessee drivers licenses are considered valid. Many states will accept a driver’s license from any other state, which provides a way for students or people who have recently moved to Tennessee and have not yet gotten a state drivers license to vote without any extra bureaucratic loopholes to jump through.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau the percentage of the voting population who actually came to the polls was 53 percent in 2008. When our voter turnout rate is barely pushing 50 percernt in presidential elections, why make it so difficult to actually vote?
Tennessee and Texas aren’t the only states to try implementing stricter photo ID laws. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and South Carolina have introduced similar legislation.
According to the National Conference for State Legislature, both Texas and South Carolina were denied pre-clearance and Mississippi’s law has yet to be reviewed
What does it say about our government when states are willing to strip students of their voting rights to prevent rare cases of voter fraud? It is a troubling trend that will likely be the subject of future election debates and Boise State students are certainly not immune to the potential