Student Stories

A New Chapter In The Fight: Xavier University Of Louisiana Ambassadors Continue Voter ID Work Started At Louisiana State University

For many students in this country, the act of being an engaged member in our democracy and casting a ballot comes with numerous barriers. One prominent barrier to student voting is the requirement to bring an accepted form of identification to cast a ballot. Voter ID laws vary state-by-state, ranging from no voter ID requirement to strict photo ID requirements that only include certain types of ID that meet specific criteria. Student IDs issued by colleges and universities are accepted by some states but certainly not all. Low-income, racial and ethnic minorities, students, the elderly, and people with disabilities are among the voters that disproportionately do not have access to methods of identification that states accept for the use of voting. 

Andrew Goodman Ambassadors Madison Melancon (left) and Valencia Richardson (right) witness Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards sign HB 940 into law.

The complex nature of this issue is highlighted acutely in the southern gulf state of Louisiana. As for Louisiana, voter ID laws continue to be a barrier to the ballot box for countless students despite progressive efforts regarding making student IDs an acceptable form of identification for voting. In 2016, a group of student leaders led by Andrew Goodman Ambassadors at Louisiana’s flagship institution, Louisiana State University (LSU), tackled this issue head on. They successfully advocated for a bill — and witnessed it signed into law — that enabled public institutions’ student IDs to be used as voter ID. However, private institutions and community colleges were excluded. In 2020, Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA) Ambassadors picked up where LSU Ambassadors left off.

Geaux Vote’s 2016 Victory

The Ambassadors at LSU, known on campus as Geaux Vote, recognized the sheer volume of students who were excluded from being able to vote simply because they did not possess the proper identification. Identifying the solution to an issue of this magnitude proved to be quite simple — and that was to require that the student identification cards already administered by universities could be used for voting purposes. At the time, more than 30,000 students at LSU alone would have viable voter identification if their student IDs had a signature. If implemented across all Louisiana colleges, this number increased to more than 300,000. 

Members of the Geaux Vote student group pose with LSU Football Coach Ed Orgeron during LSU’s Legislative Day at the Capitol in Spring 2019.

After months of the Ambassadors’ tireless advocacy, Louisiana House Bill 940 passed and required that student identification cards issued by public postsecondary education institutions meet certain requirements to ensure that they would be eligible for voting purposes. The passage of this bill expanded voting access for more than 139,000 college students in the state; however, at the time that it was passed, community colleges and private institutions were left out of the bill. Over 27,000 students at private universities and thousands of others at public two-year institutions in Louisiana were excluded from being able to use their student IDs at the polls. These exclusions presented a large barrier not only for those populations historically disenfranchised but also for out-of-state students that had come to call Louisiana home.

Continuing the Fight at XULA

Tia Alexander (third from left), a Xavier University of Louisiana Andrew Goodman Ambassador, listens on at the 2019 National Civic Leadership Training Summit in New Jersey.

It wasn’t until 2019 at The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s annual National Civic Leadership Training Summit that Andrew Goodman Ambassadors from XULA heard about the bill that LSU had passed and that failed to include private institutions such as theirs. Hearing the story and analyzing just how many students would be positively impacted by extending student ID provisions to private campuses, the Ambassadors went back to their campus to fervently work on this issue with plans of adding an amendment to the original bill that already existed. 

The Ambassadors and Royce Duplessis, member of the Louisiana House of Representatives from the 93rd District, discovered that introducing a new bill would be more efficient than amending the original HB940. The students began organizing and advocating diligently for their cause with constant email communications and research on the impact a bill like this would have, how many other states have these laws, and why the original bill wouldn’t extend to private institutions. With months of progress already underway, the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic complicated their ability to push this through. As the pandemic surged and halted the Louisiana State Legislative Session, their progress was stalled, and the students were left with limited avenues to present arguments and advocate for their bill. 

Jaleel Ross (far left) of XULA sits among fellow Ambassadors at the 2019 National Civic Leadership Training Summit.

Finally, On October 21, 2020 the Ambassadors, who had worked diligently for a year to ensure their classmates and other private school students in Louisiana could access the polls with the same ease that their peers at public institutions could, were informed that the bill had passed. Louisiana HB48 will go into effect on January 1, 2023. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that private institutions are ready to issue compliant IDs by the time this law goes into effect in 2023. The main component of making student IDs compliant includes updating them to include signatures. Notably, some schools do not already have the technology necessary to implement these changes on the new voter friendly IDs.

The Road Ahead

“We know how challenging it is for students to vote for the first time on their campuses, especially as voter ID and other laws continue to change each year. We are committed to supporting our campuses in Louisiana to issue student IDs that are compliant with the new law once it goes into effect,” remarked Caroline Smith, The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Interim Director of Programs.

The Andrew Goodman Foundation is continuing to work alongside Xavier University of Louisiana to get the word out about HB48 and private institutions’ ability to now issue student IDs that can be used as voter ID. We are committed to ensuring that students at Louisiana’s private institutions and community colleges will be able to use their student IDs to vote by the time of the 2024 Presidential Election and for many years to come.

About the Author

Kaylee Valencia is the Program Manager: Operations Strategist at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. Kaylee is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.