Student Groups Criticize Election Reform Legislation
College students would be disproportionately affected by bill’s provisions
A legislative plan to curb voting irregularities may have unintended consequences for college students wishing to cast ballots, student groups and other critics say.
A Senate-approved bill would require first-time voters to present photo identification cards showing their names and addresses. Among those most affected by the change may be college students, who switch addresses frequently and may move from a two-year to four-year college, changes that would require them to obtain new cards.
“Students are disproportionately first-time voters and would be severely disenfranchised by the ID provision,” says Julia Beatty, president of the U.S. Student Association, a student-led organization in Washington. In effect, she says, it “systematically shuts out hundreds of thousands of student voters” who care deeply about their communities.
The ID provision has support in both the House and Senate, which want to curb voter fraud and abuse following the contentious 2000 presidential election. While a photo ID for first-time voters may curb some fraud, it could hurt other groups, including the disabled as well as absentee voters.
“We must ensure that we are making voting easier for qualified Americans, not more cumbersome,” says Adam Lioz of the U.S. PIRG Democracy project. Moreover, localities could curb fraud just as easily by using verification measures that do not require new voters to obtain a picture ID.
As an alternative to a photo ID, the bill before Congress would allow individuals to bring a utility bill or other household bill to the voting booth as proof of identity and local residence. However, this alternative provides few advantages for students who may live in college-owned housing.
“In four years of college in Wisconsin, I had five addresses, a dozen roommates and a New Jersey driver’s license,” Beatty says. “I lived, worked and embraced my campus community, but under this provision I would have been unable to vote.”
Nationally, she says, young people voted in increasing numbers in 2000. But the changes may make that progress moot.
“Students care deeply about our government and its policies, but this provision tells them that our government is not at all interested in what they have to say,” she says. “The real fraud is in keeping legitimate, qualified voters from casting their ballots.”
The election bill has bipartisan support in the Senate, where Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says it would make election systems more accurate and accessible. “This bill strengthens the integrity of the process so that voters know that their right to vote is not diluted through fraud committed by others.”
The bill now goes to a House/Senate conference committee to resolve differences between the Senate bill and a House measure that passed earlier. Both bills also provide funding for states to improve their voting systems.
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