Study questions students' access to valid voter ID

Posted: September 21, 2012

At least 28,500 students from more than 15 colleges will not be able to use their school IDs to vote in Pennsylvania in November, according to a study by a consumer-advocacy group.

Under Pennsylvania's new voter-identification law - whose fate is still being considered by the courts - student photo-ID cards from accredited colleges and universities are among the documents that will be accepted at the polls as long as those IDs include an expiration date.

Since April, nearly 100 higher-education institutions - including Pennsylvania State, Drexel, and Temple Universities, and Community College of Philadelphia - have made plans to alter their IDs to include expiration dates for the first time, according the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG).

Some schools are handing out new cards to all students and others are distributing expiration-date stickers.

PennPIRG documented in the spring how the voter-ID law could affect college students, and Wednesday, the group presented an update.

The PennPIRG survey contacted 185 higher-education institutions about their voter-ID efforts, and 22 campuses did not respond or gave inconsistent responses. Fifteen campuses with total enrollment of more than 28,500 planned no ID changes.

Students who cannot use their college ID, and don't have a state ID or passport, can go to PennDot to obtain a free nondriver license or a Department of State ID card.

But students from out of state must relinquish their home-state driver's license to get a Pennsylvania ID card.

PennDot spokeswoman Jan McKnight said that requirement applies to everyone. "You have to pick a place of residency," she said. "You have to declare one of those states as your home."

Any new voters will also have to register to vote in Pennsylvania by Oct. 9.

Out-of-state students have always faced difficult decisions when it comes to residency. Some students choose to remain at their parents' address so they can vote in local elections. Changing residency can also disqualify them for government jobs, scholarships, and internships, or cause their tuition and auto insurance to go up or down.

McKnight said PennDot was reviewing the college survey and deciding whether students could obtain a Department of State ID card without relinquishing their home-state ID. The new state ID cannot be used for any purpose other than voting in Pennsylvania.

Angela Lee, a state advocate with PennPIRG, said the survey results were mixed.

"The good news is that a vast majority of schools have taken action to provide students with valid IDs," Lee said. But, she added, many schools should be doing more to "alert their students to the need and availability of new IDs or stickers" instead of leaving the onus on students.

A spokeswoman at Villanova University said stickers with expiration dates and holograms would be available for students in the coming weeks. A get-out-the-vote campaign organized by students and supported by the administration was planning registration drives and presentations in the dining halls, lectures, and other events to make sure all students knew about the law.

Shelby Rolla, a senior at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, said at a news conference Wednesday that she was "disheartened" that her school was not changing its IDs or taking any steps to educate students about the law. The school has about 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students, and focuses primarily on agricultural and science-related programs.

Rolla recently obtained a passport, but without that, she said, "I would have had to jump through hoops to obtain a valid ID, allocating time away from my hectic college schedule and relinquishing my Virginia driver's license."

The PennDot center nearest to Delaware Valley College is eight miles away and would take at least two to three hours to reach by public transit, she said.

Laurie Ward, the school's chief marketing officer, said the administration might work with students "to figure something out" if they felt disenfranchised. But so far, she said, "we haven't had any students requesting something they can use for voting."

The college has no plans to change its card. "We use them for dining halls, for residence halls," Ward said. "We don't see our ID as a photo ID."

On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court ordered Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr., who upheld the law in August, to take a second look and decide whether state election officials were providing "liberal access" to ID cards. If the judge cannot predict that no one will be disenfranchised, the court indicated, he is to grant an injunction by Oct. 2.


Contact Jessica Parks at 215-854-4851 or jparks@philly.com.

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