College ID Cards Fail Pennsylvania Voter ID Test
MUHLENBERG, Pa. (AP) – When Gov. Tom Corbett signed a law this month requiring voters to present photo ID at the polls in order to cast their ballots, it looked like college students got a break.
The voter ID law included student identification cards issued by Pennsylvania colleges on a short list of acceptable forms of identification – as long as those IDs have expiration dates.
The problem is, most college IDs don't.
For Muhlenberg College student Erin Wexler, 20, that could be a problem. A sophomore, Wexler did not know about the new law, and her New Jersey driver's license won't cut it. Only Pennsylvania driver's licenses qualify.
“Two of my best friends are from Brooklyn,” she said. “They don’t have driver’s licenses because they don't need them.”
Voting rights advocates worry that students like Wexler and her New York friends won't learn they can’t vote for the next president until they show up Nov. 6, because their college IDs and out-of-state driver’s licenses won’t grant them access.
In interviews this week, none of a dozen Muhlenberg students interviewed had heard of the requirement.
That has college administrators from Temple University to Muhlenberg and across Pennsylvania pondering whether to issue new student ID cards for the fall semester with expiration dates to make it easier for undergraduates to vote.
Some of the state's largest schools – including Penn State, Temple and the State System of Higher Education colleges, such as Kutztown and East Stroudsburg universities – issue student IDs that can’t be used at the polls under the new law. DeSales University and Cedar Crest and Lafayette colleges are in the same boat.
State system spokesman Kenn Marshall said modern college IDs are like credit cards. For flexibility, schools simply deactivate them when students are no longer enrolled.
“I guess it is because students come and go; unfortunately, some students withdraw during semesters,” he said. “They may go in the fall, or the spring. The difficulty would be what date do you put on (their IDs)?”
The same goes for most of the state’s private colleges and universities, said Mary Young, director of government relations for the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania.
Kutztown University officials have just begun weighing their options, spokesman Sean Dallas said. “Do we reissue IDs for everyone? Do we use a sticker? How long should they be valid for? They are in the earliest stages of the discussion.”
The one local exception: Lehigh University, which issues freshman IDs that feature an expiration date four years in the future, said spokeswoman Jennifer Tucker. The University of Pennsylvania has similarly acceptable IDs.
How did this happen? The Senate added several additional forms of ID to the bill to make it easier for Pennsylvanians to vote, said Senate State Government Committee Chairman Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks, but needed to set some standards.
“I was trying to expand (the bill) to make it as easy as possible” to vote, he said. “But we have to put some guidelines on it.” One of the guidelines was that nearly all forms of acceptable ID must have an expiration date.
Stickers could be an option. The Department of State has determined college IDs with stickers listing an expiration date (or even a specific academic semester such as fall 2012) would be accepted at the polls as a valid form of voter identification, spokesman Ron Ruman said.
Still, that means a university like Penn State would have to print and distribute about 86,000 stickers to cover all their graduate and undergraduate students.
A similar debate erupted in Wisconsin last year when that state passed a voter ID law. A state board ruled initially that expiration date stickers would be acceptable for student IDs, then reversed itself. The law has been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, and has been suspended under legal review.
The University of Wisconsin created a separate student ID that meets the law for voting when coupled with an official letter from the university confirming enrollment. Demand for the cards has been relatively light, but is expected to pick up in the fall.
Young, of the Pennsylvania Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, expects a similar story in Pennsylvania. Most students will probably have some other form of acceptable ID such as a drivers’ license, she said.
The ACLU expects to file a challenge to Pennsylvania's voter ID law.