Carded at the Polls
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 03:09
A political argument has been brewing this election cycle that, on the surface, might appear remarkably ordinary: More than half the states have recently passed some form of voter identification law.
These new electoral policies have sparked debate since they were ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008. Some analysts contend that the laws will protect the sanctity of elections from fraudulent voting; others believe the requirement adds an unfair and unnecessary burden, making it more difficult for students, the elderly and the poor to vote. What’s worse, this disenfranchisement is likely not just an indirect consequence of the new laws, but a targeting of specific demographics by legislators who seek to reduce their turnout.
Opposition to voter identification laws may not be intuitive. What is the harm, one might ask, in ensuring that voters at the polls are who they say they are? Unfortunately, if the issue were this simple, it would not be so partisan, nor would there be such a conspicuous lack of motivation for this relatively sudden and sweeping wave of legislation.
Concerns that such laws may disenfranchise students are not overstated. In April 2011, at least three Georgetown students were turned away from the polls during a special election to fill an at-large seat on the D.C. Council. The students were told that they did not have the required government ID and proof of residency, and they were given neither provisional ballots nor a chance to prove their residency at a later date.
College students across the country who try to vote outside their home state can expect to face this problem. In Pennsylvania, a swing state where many out-of-state college students choose to vote, the law prevents voters from using out-of-state driver’s licenses to cast a ballot. Moreover, the law requires that voter IDs fulfill a number of conditions: The identification must have a recent photograph and a valid and future expiration date. Many students IDs fail to meet at least one of these criteria, and out-of-state students whose only other ID is a driver’s license from their home state will be left with no options for proving their identity on Election Day.
As similar laws are proposed and debated in state legislatures across the country, Georgetown students must be cognizant of potential threats to their right to vote and the rights of their peers back home. It is important to note, however, that such voter fraud policies vary by state. Some versions of voter identification laws still make it easy for student voters to cast their ballots, regardless of where their parents live or how often their universities update their identification systems. But even if these new laws don’t directly threaten most Georgetown students’ ability to vote, we must also weigh the potential effects of weaker student turnout — an already low statistic — across the country. As student issues such as Pell grant funding are debated, it’s critical that the participation of students — and all voters, for that matter — not be suppressed.