Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Will Prevent College Students from Voting


This November should be an exciting time on Pennsylvania college campuses. Students across the state, many for the first time, will cast a vote in the presidential election. Unfortunately, many Pennsylvania students will be kept out of our political process. Some will not bother to go to the polls because they lack any of the recently specified forms of required photo identification; others will be turned away because they are unaware of the state’s new law. This is because of Pennsylvania’s new, complex voter ID law that puts strict requirements on which student IDs are acceptable for voting. Several student IDs issued by Pennsylvania colleges and universities currently do not comply with the new voter ID law.

The few types of identification cards that will be acceptable in Pennsylvania for the November election include U.S. military IDs; employee photo IDs issued by federal or Pennsylvania state, county or municipal governments; photo ID cards issued by a Pennsylvania care facility; photo IDs issued by the U.S. Federal Government or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or photo ID cards from an accredited Pennsylvania public or private institution of higher learning.

The vast majority of students in Pennsylvania universities do not have the first three IDs. Also, tens of thousands of students who will wish to vote in Pennsylvania will not have a Pennsylvania driver’s license; Pennsylvania has more out-of-state freshmen at their schools than any other state. Some native Pennsylvania students will not have a driver’s license or identification card. In fact, in 2010 the number of 20 to 34-year-olds without a driver’s license reached 15.7 percent and is increasing. That percentage is even higher for people aged 19 and younger. This means that a student ID will be the last fallback for many young people in need of a voter ID.

The law becomes much more problematic for students because it requires a student ID to have a photo and an expiration date. Few student IDs meet these requirements. A recent study by PennPIRG suggests that 85% of students in Pennsylvania go to schools without acceptable IDs for voting. A survey that is underway of 186 colleges and universities by the ACLU, Advancement Project, Fair Elections Legal Network, PennPIRG, and Rock the Vote also indicates that most schools’ IDs are not (and will not be made to be) acceptable before the November 2012 election. Therefore, at many Pennsylvania schools the last lifeline for students to dodge this suppressive law is cut.

The problem is compounded by poor communication. Not all school officials are aware of the law. There are not provisions in the law for communicating its requirements to schools or students. This is a glaring omission because without voter education, students will be less likely to find out about the new law before Election Day. Fair Elections Legal Network has reached out to campuses in hope that its Campus Vote Project can help spread the word on the new law.

The law’s details are unclear. For example, putting a sticker on an ID with its expiration date satisfies the law and certain schools plan to provide stickers with expiration dates for students this fall. Some stickers will simply have the semester during which the card is valid printed on them (e.g., “fall 2012”). Will a volunteer at a polling station understand it that the ID is still valid? The decision to accept that type of ID will be made at the discretion of the volunteer; Pennsylvania's Secretary of State has not issued any formal directives on this and does not have plans to do so. If the Board of Election staff is to implement this law fairly in November, the nuts and bolts must be worked out internally as soon as possible.

The controversy over student IDs should not even be on the table. Someone who is able to obtain a student ID card has passed the many hurdles of identification required to attend college including filing the FAFSA, having a proper immunization record, and submitting standardized test scores and high school transcripts. Whether the ID is expired or not shouldn’t matter. If the person on the ID is also on the voter rolls and is identifiable as the person attempting to vote, the job of the ID has been done. They are still the same person whether or not they are currently a student! Other identification cards are not subjected to such scrutiny. For example, driver’s licenses are still valid 12 months after they expire despite there being an accessible black market for driver’s licenses. Therefore, the voter ID law makes a double standard that disadvantages young people.

All in all, student participation in the 2012 election is vulnerable thanks to this law. The state of Pennsylvania ought to clear up the meaning of its rules. Pennsylvania universities should do what they can to make sure their schools' IDs comply with the law so students will have the ID they need to cast a ballot this November. Election officials and college administrators should work together to educate students about changes in the law and get acceptable IDs into the hands of students.