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The long range damage of PA’s Voter ID law.

Below is an op-ed written by Lucas Michelen, a student at Temple University that I received in an email. It is a clear and straight forward account of the way PA’s Voter ID bill will impact college students who wish to vote in the November 2012 election, and it is a great read, all on its own. Reading it however, prompted me to think about the long range damage this will cause. Many see the importance of the upcoming election as the immediate and short-term impact it will have.  What will it mean for our Democracy for the next four years? This is a worthwhile argument, however, the effects go far beyond this election. Michelen writes: (emphasis is mine)

In the 2008 election, voter turnout for 18-24 year olds increased dramatically and played a key role in shaping the election. In this upcoming election cycle, students looking to carry on this trend will find many new hurdles to face when trying to cast their vote. No doubt many of them will be unaware of the change in the law, and have no idea that they were required to have a state issued ID in order to vote. Others will be surprised and disappointed when they go to cast their vote on November 6th and are turned away because their student ID, which they thought was acceptable, doesn’t meet the state’s requirement.

Here is the beginning of the long term damage. These college students are individuals, who have just begun to be a part of our electoral process, some voting for the very first time. The harder it is for these individuals, the greater the likelihood that it will diminish their participation in future elections. In other words, the effect is not only to disenfranchise voters in this one election, but also to diminish the participation of younger voters in all future elections. What will it mean to our future to  almost permanently stop 600,000 young people from voting in every election?

The true purpose of this law is so apparent as Michelen describes how hard it can be to comply with the law:

Even students who are aware of the law may have difficulty securing an approved ID. Obtaining a Pennsylvania photo identification card requires residents to obtain their social security card and a second proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate or a certificate of citizenship. For students, whose parents often keep these documents locked away at home, gathering the materials necessary presents an unnecessary hardship which will undoubtedly deter many students from voting. In addition, missing class, the cost of getting the proper documentation, finding transportation to PennDOT, and dealing with the frustration of an afternoon in the department of transportation will serve as additional barriers, increasing the chances that students will stay home on Election Day.

If this law was really about stopping voter fraud, it wouldn’t make voting by legitimate voters so difficult. There must be easier ways to fight voter fraud than disenfranchising real voters.

 

This Op-Ed is being sent in on behalf of Lucas Michelen. A student member of the American Constitution Society and attends Temple University Law School. It tackles the voter I.D. law and how it relates to Pennsylvania’s over 600,000 students.

Democracy 101: Don’t Block the Student Vote   by Lucas Michelen

I am a registered Pennsylvania voter, I have voted in Pennsylvania twice before, and I have lived in Pennsylvania for six years. However, if the 2012 Presidential election were held today, I would be denied my right to vote. Come this fall, you can expect to hear thousands of similar stories like this. It is profound and inexcusable, that myself – and thousands of my fellow Pennsylvania classmates – may ultimately be denied our voice in Pennsylvania politics.

Since 2006, I have attended Temple University for both my undergraduate studies and for my first year of law school – paying over $112,000 in tuition to the state institution. I have worked three separate jobs in Pennsylvania, paid Pennsylvania taxes on every pay check I received, and lived in four separate apartments throughout Philadelphia. I have worked for a Pennsylvania State Representative, been active in my community, and plan to practice in Philadelphia upon graduating law school. Despite these factors, I currently can not vote.

With no significant instances of voter fraud reported in the state, the recently enacted voter I.D. law has been widely questioned and deemed by many as an encroachment on the electorate’s fundamental right to vote. Recent studies have revealed that up to 750,000 Pennsylvania voters, 9.2% of the voter electorate, do not possess the proper required ID to vote. Commentators have pointed to numbers of elderly and low-income voters who will be affected by these laws, but often overlook the law’s enormous potential impact on student voters.

Perhaps less attention has been paid to how the law impacts students because Harrisburg purported to address this issue when it specifically included student IDs as an accepted form of identification under the new law. The problem, which is often not mentioned, is that the law requires school ID’s to bear an expiration date in order to be valid. Unfortunately, many colleges and universities do not include expiration dates their IDs, thereby making the exception for student ID’s meaningless for potentially thousands of students like myself.

In the 2008 election, voter turnout for 18-24 year olds increased dramatically and played a key role in shaping the election. In this upcoming election cycle, students looking to carry on this trend will find many new hurdles to face when trying to cast their vote. No doubt many of them will be unaware of the change in the law, and have no idea that they were required to have a state issued ID in order to vote. Others will be surprised and disappointed when they go to cast their vote on November 6th and are turned away because their student ID, which they thought was acceptable, doesn’t meet the state’s requirement.

Even students who are aware of the law may have difficulty securing an approved ID. Obtaining a Pennsylvania photo identification card requires residents to obtain their social security card and a second proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate or a certificate of citizenship. For students, whose parents often keep these documents locked away at home, gathering the materials necessary presents an unnecessary hardship which will undoubtedly deter many students from voting. In addition, missing class, the cost of getting the proper documentation, finding transportation to PennDOT, and dealing with the frustration of an afternoon in the department of transportation will serve as additional barriers, increasing the chances that students will stay home on Election Day.

Pennsylvania is known nationwide for its reputation as home to some of the country’s best institutions for higher education. Students travel from every state to take advantages of all of the incredible education options Pennsylvania has to offer. On the other side of the equation, Pennsylvania needs its students. Students play an intricate role in promoting both the economic and social growth of the state.

In addition to paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to Pennsylvania institutions, students live, work and pay various state and local taxes that help contribute to the financial growth of the state. Maybe even more important than the economics, is something immeasurable that students contribute to the state. Students greatly enhance the intellectual capital of the community. Students construct an environment where learning is valued, while promoting the growth of ideas and solutions to the state’s social problems. This intangible contribution helps to further the greater good of all Pennsylvanians for years to come.

Throughout our education, we have been instilled with the idea that voting is the building block of our democracy, which should not be squandered or taken lightly. Young adults have been criticized countless times for not participating in the political process, but now, due to no fault of our own, are facing unprecedented hurdles that both hinder student voting and discourage political participation. Harrisburg is sending the wrong message to Pennsylvania students. The legislature should protect and promote students’ right to vote rather than diminish and bury young voters eager to participate in making Pennsylvania better. These barriers will not only raise the cost of voting but may also serve to disenfranchise the over 600,000 college students who are proud to call Pennsylvania home.

  • Lucas Michelen
  • Law and Public Policy Scholar at Temple University Beasley School of Law.

 

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