Republican Legislators, State Department officials, and Governor Tom Corbett worked together energetically this year to make it much harder for college students in Pennsylvania to vote in November. Perhaps they are aware of the high turnout of Obama voters among young people that took place in 2008. But the obstacles they have strewn in the way of young voters in their state this year may turn out to be ill-advised.
As is often the case when young adults are told to step aside from their rightful place in society, this may tick off enough students that they will turn out in numbers beyond even what was seen in 2008. If so, the Pennsylvania GOP will be soon be second-guessing their own tactics.
But regardless of the outcome this November, it's hard to figure how the Republican Party ever expects to woo young voters, who they must realize are going to be crucial to the long-term vitality of their party. Using more restrictive Voter ID laws in ways that impact students is an immediate risk, and a long-range blunder.
Political analysts observed great changes in partisanship among young people in the US after disenchantment with the Democratic Party during the Johnson years. College campuses saw the growth of Young Republicans and later, thriving Neo-Con societies. Students as a group today would probably best be described today as post-partisan. Their vote went overwhelmingly in favor of Obama in 2008, but they don't tend to describe themselves as stalwart Democrats. Young people interested in politics today are more independent than any group of voters in the country's history.
But hey, with enough effort, a whole Party certainly could alienate young voters. By taking a position hostile to free exercise of the ballot for students, Republicans could lose the trust of young voters for another generation.
The Pennsylvania Legislature passed a Voter ID law in March, significantly tightening requirements. The new guidelines only allow for a handful of acceptable, government-issued photo ID types. The list does include student ID's, but with restrictions that have a negative impact on the vast majority of college students registered to vote in PA.
The new law requires that in order for a student ID to be accepted at the polls in November, the card must display the name and photograph of the student, and an expiration date. It's the last part that makes most of the student ID's in Pennsylvania non-compliant with the new law. It isn't clear what - if any - research was done by legislators writing the bill, but advocacy organizations quickly discovered that of the 110 accredited colleges, universities, and technical schools in Pennsylvania, 91 do not have ID cards that bear an expiration date, making them unacceptable at the polls.
Many colleges and Universities whose student ID cards do not comply with the new requirements are scrambling to help their students get what they need in time to vote.
Some schools are producing and issuing stickers with expiration dates that can be affixed to existing cards. Some schools are producing and issuing all-new cards that include an expiration date.
Some schools, however, don't currently have plans in place to ensure that their students will have the ID they need in time to vote in this election. Voting advocates are still urging those schools to provide students without compliant ID to take action in time for election day, or at the very least work to apprise their students of the situation.
Unfortunately, schools were not consulted in the implementation of law, or even officially informed of the changes. Any actions these learning institutions are taking now to help their students adapt to the changes in time to vote are voluntary.
What Other Options Do Students Have?
Students that have a current PennDOT driver's license or non-driver's ID can use that to vote. For students from out of state, the situation is grim. In order to obtain a PennDOT ID, the student must surrender their out-of-state ID. They then have the same rigid requirements for original documents that native Pennsylvanians without ID are finding it hard to meet.
For more information, and help getting ID in Pennsylvania, visit www.seventy.org.