Iowa State University students won an important victory this month in their effort to fully exercise their right to vote on campus. It came in response to Republican-passed voter ID laws that made it more challenging for many Iowans — especially college students — to vote.
In mid-August, the Iowa State University College Democrats announced that, starting in Fall 2020, students will be able to use their student IDs to prove their identity at the polls. That’s because the university will now print an expiration date on student IDs, which puts them into compliance with part of Iowa’s new election laws. Students will still need to prove their residency, but an ISU online portal will help fill that part of the requirement.
Iowa passed a law in 2017 establishing an ID requirement and listed the acceptable forms of primary ID. Those are: an Iowa Voter Identification Card, Iowa driver’s license, Iowa non-operator ID, a military or veteran ID, a U.S. passport or a tribal ID card or document.
However, out-of-state students without a passport or military ID have to rely on voter ID cards sent out by the Iowa Secretary of State in order to prove their identity and cast a ballot at a polling place. That added one extra step in the process to be eligible to vote on campus, which easily could have disenfranchised many students.
The voter ID law went into full effect this year, but the College Democrats took action long before now.
How The New IDs Help
According to Taylor Blair, president of the ISU College Democrats, student IDs are a secondary form of ID, so if students want to use them, they also have to provide proof of residency.
The IDs already have students’ photos on them, and Blair said the university has an online portal that displays a student’s address, which has been approved by the county auditor, but the expiration date is the final piece of the puzzle.
“For every eligible Iowa State student, we have a route to have residency proven and ID and that’s really important,” he said.
Iowa does allow people without one of the eligible forms of ID to either fill out a provisional ballot on election day or to apply for a voter ID card in advance.
Neither of those options are good solutions to allowing students to vote, Blair said.
“The issue is that if you’re from out of state, the process is already pretty complex and pretty opaque for a lot of students,” he said. “They don’t really understand exactly what they have to do, what they have to bring, and so if you get a postcard in the mail that says you’re registered and then you get another postcard in the mail a couple days later, it’s hard to know which one of those is the voter ID card.”
The voter ID cards are white card stock, not plastic, and Blair said they’re easy to lose or forget about. He did last year.
If a voter doesn’t have the right ID on election day, the next option is to fill out a provisional ballot, which allows a citizen to cast a vote, but it isn’t counted until they’ve proven they’re eligible voters.
The Iowa secretary of state’s website says, “You have the right to provide evidence showing why you are eligible to vote. You may provide evidence to the precinct election officials or to the county auditor’s office by the deadline listed on the provisional ballot envelope.”
Blair said that’s potentially a problem because students may have to travel without access to a car, get to the office during business hours and know where to go in the first place.
Because provisional ballots aren’t a good option, the College Democrats began petitioning for the change shortly after the state passed the voter ID law, and they knew it would take time to appeal to the right people.
Blair said his group’s first actions led to the creation of the online page that proves student residency. For the expiration dates, he spoke at the regents meeting this spring and met with the director of governmental affairs, student government and the treasurer.
Recently, he said he spoke at a vigil hosted by the League of Women Voters where people with the College Democrats handed out flyers encouraging people to email the administration about why the change was needed.
“It’s hard to say exactly what was the straw that broke the camel’s back of what finally pushed it over the edge, but I think it was just the constant pressure from the College Democrats, but then also other students at Iowa State,” Blair said.
Beyond The Battle
When the change takes place in 2020, it will only apply to IDs for the incoming class. Blair said he and his group are trying to convince the administration to develop a way for current students to update their IDs with expiration dates.
There’s an election this fall, including one for city council in Ames that students should be interested in, and Blair said it will provide important evidence for how this voter ID law impacts students because the law is in full effect.
For now, Blair advises in-state students bring their drivers’ license, non-operator’s license or military ID to the polls. Out-of-state students will get voter ID cards, which he said they should put in their wallets.
And even though the ID change won’t go into effect as soon as they’d hoped, Blair said he’s still proud that it did.
“I was not expecting it to happen,” he said. “We had been told so many times, for so many different reasons, why this was impossible. I found out when everyone else found out and I was just shocked. It just shows the power of keeping up the good fight.”
All that said, Blair would still prefer the Iowa Legislature reverse course on the voter ID law overall.
“This change is only a single step towards blunting the impact of the discriminatory Voter ID Law,” he said after ISU’s decision. “Voter suppression is still alive and well in Iowa even with this important and impactful change. We are very happy with this news, but the most important takeaway is that the requirement of certain specific forms of ID at the polls has a real and negative impact on the ability for eligible voters to access their right to vote.”
by Nikoel Hytrek