Lawsuit Says Student ID Voting Restrictions Violate 26th Amendment, Which Lowered the Voting Age to 18
This article was originally published in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on November 20th, 2019.
A new lawsuit contends that Wisconsin’s barriers to using student IDs at polling places violate the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 nationally in 1971.
It seeks to block enforcement of the restrictions during the 2020 election when Wisconsin is expected to play a key role in choosing the next president of the United States.
The Andrew Goodman Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes voting and civic engagement among young people, filed the suit Tuesday in Madison federal court. Goodman was one of three college students kidnapped and murdered by the Ku Klux Klan while registering African American voters in Mississippi in the summer of 1964.
Named as defendants are the six members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
The lawsuit follows one filed in April by Common Cause Wisconsin that sought to throw out the voter ID rules for student IDs. U.S. District Judge James Peterson in July put that case on hold until an appeals court rules on a broader case challenging the voter ID law and other election laws.
When the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals court will rule in that broader case is unclear. The court heard arguments in that case nearly three years ago but has not issued a decision, an exceedingly long delay, according to court observers.
The new suit focuses solely on requirements to make student IDs acceptable forms under the law, requirements it says have nothing to do with proving who the voter is and everything to do with suppressing voter turnout out among students.
“By enacting the Student Voter ID Restrictions, Wisconsin has turned its back on this protected group of voters who are invaluable to upholding the nation’s idea,” the suit states.
According to the suit, after Wisconsin passed its controversial photo voter ID law in 2011, the state saw the second-largest decline in student voter turnout in the country. In 2008, 57.5% of eligible voters under 30 went to the polls. In 2016, student voter turnout in Wisconsin declined anywhere from 5% to 11%, while, nationally, student voter turnout rose to record levels.
In theory, a student ID from a college, university or technical school accreditated in Wisconsin, is an acceptable form of identification under the law. But that’s only if the student ID card indicates it was issued less than two years earlier and the card includes the student’s signature. Even then, the student must prove through other means that he or she is currently enrolled at the time she or she is voting.
A student could also present any of the other acceptable forms of ID to vote, like a driver’s license or passport. Many students, however, don’t have those options.
The many other forms of ID deemed acceptable under the law do not have similar requirements. The photo ID law merely requires poll workers to verify the name on the ID matches the one on the voter list and that “the photo reasonably resembles the elector.”
Expiration dates and current enrollment status are irrelevant to those two basic concerns, the suit argues.
“Imposing stricter requirements on student IDs was not accidental; it was strategic. The vast majority of student IDs are held by voters between the ages of 18 and 24, the very contingent that came out to vote heavily for Democrats in 2008 and has continued to vote overwhelmingly Democratic in subsequent elections.”
When Wisconsin adopted its new voter ID law, most of the state’s colleges and technical schools’ student ID cards did not comply with the new requirements. According to the suit, they still don’t, though some institutions will provide students a compliant version upon request. That option, however, isn’t well known to most students.
Many colleges have stuck with student IDs that are not compliant with the state voter ID law “in part because of the financial burden of needlessly reissuing student IDs every two years.”