Universal Mentors Association

Bans on student IDs for voting proposed in five states


As the 2024 presidential election cycle gets into gear, many state legislatures are considering whether or not to allow students to use their institutional IDs at the polls.

Most states that require voters to show identification in order to vote allow some or all students to use their institution’s ID card to fulfill that requirement. But over the past several months, at least five states have either proposed or passed laws that would prohibit students from using their college-issued IDs to vote.

The trend is worrying to voting-rights advocates who believe bans on student IDs aim to make it more difficult for young people to vote in upcoming elections. Meanwhile, those who support such prohibitions say that university-issued IDs are less secure and regulable than government-issued IDs, potentially allowing them to be used for voter fraud.

Idaho Lawsuits

The issue has come to a head in Idaho, where a law signed by the governor in March is slated to end a 13-year precedent allowing student IDs to be used for voter identification. Two advocacy groups—March for Our Lives Idaho and Babe Vote—have already sued to try to stop the law from going into effect.

The lawsuit filed by March for Our Lives Idaho seeks a permanent injunction against the Idaho bill to keep it from going into effect and argues that it violates the 26th Amendment by impeding young people’s ability to vote. The complaint calls the bill “a surgical attack on Idaho’s young voters in response to their successful organizing efforts and increasing political power. By attacking the use of student identification, House Bill 124 singles out high school and college students and threatens their political participation while limiting their access to the franchise.”

Eloísa Harper, the 14-year-old co-director of March for Our Lives Idaho, said she feels it’s important not to put up barriers that would discourage young people from participating in democracy.

“It just kind of is restricting to these young voters. They’ll start to find it harder to find and express their political voice,” she said.

Phil McGrane, Idaho’s secretary of state and the defendant in the lawsuit, was a proponent of the bill to prohibit the use of student IDs at polling places. But his support of it hinged on the passage of another bill that allows Idahoans who have no driver’s license to get a free ID for the purpose of voting, but that also imposes additional restrictions on voters.

“The standards in terms of issuing student IDs are just different than all the other forms of identification we accept,” he said. “We have a badge printer in our office where we could print off student ID badges, just the same.”

According to March for Our Lives Idaho’s lawsuit, there is no evidence to suggest student IDs have ever been used to commit voter fraud in Idaho.

McGrane also noted that new data collected using Idaho’s new electronic pollbooks showed that few people—only 104 individuals—used student IDs to vote in the November 2022 midterms out of just under 600,000 voters statewide. A whopping 98.8 percent used their state driver’s licenses.

Still, advocates say it’s worth keeping student IDs as a valid form of identification if it makes voting easier for even a handful of people.

“We’re really proponents of as many people as possible having access to the ballot,” said Megan Bellamy, vice president of law and policy at the Voting Rights Lab, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for fair elections and tracks voting rights laws. “Even if folks aren’t using it, having an option for those 100 students is so valuable to us. If it was even one student, I think it would be valuable to us.”

McGrane said his office will personally reach out to all 104 voters who used their student IDs to inform them of the change in the law.

A Range of Strategies

According to the Campus Vote Project, 23 of the 35 states that require voter identification permit the use of student IDs. But the policies vary widely among those 23 states, in some cases only allowing students who attend certain universities to utilize their campus IDs. In Indiana, Georgia and Oklahoma, for example, only students who attend public universities may use their IDs when voting. Other states require specific criteria on student IDs such as a signature or an expiration date—criteria that aren’t necessarily present on every campus’s ID. Arizona does not explicitly prohibit student IDs from being used, but none of Arizona’s colleges’ IDs fulfill state requirements of what must be present on an ID card for them to qualify.

North Carolina’s voter ID law, which passed in 2018 but will be implemented for the first time this year due to being held up by various legal challenges, requires colleges and universities in the state to submit an application if they want their student ID card to be eligible for use as identification at the polls. The institutions had from May 25 to June 28 to submit the application, which asks them to send a photo of their student ID card and confirm it fits various criteria.

For example, the institution must either affirm that the photos on its ID cards are produced by the institution or to “certify in detail the process used by the university or college to ensure the photograph is that of the student to whom the identification card is issued and shall certify that the process is designed to confirm the identity of the student to whom the identification card is issued.”

College and university IDs that are approved as forms of voter identification will remain valid until the end of 2024.

This system prevents poll workers from having to evaluate each student ID on a case-by-case basis to ensure it meets the state’s criteria for voter IDs. At the same time, critics say, it will result in fewer students being able to use their IDs, because some universities that applied may be rejected, while others failed to apply at all.

“So much of this will come down to how it actually works out in practice, right? We have a number of HBCUs, for example, that are across North Carolina,” said Bellamy. “Let’s see if their IDs [are] approved and if they’re able to be used for voting versus some of the larger institutions that have really influential boards across the state.”

A spokesperson for Campbell University, a private Baptist university in North Carolina that enrolls 5,272 students, said university administrators did not apply to have the institution’s student ID certified by the June 28 deadline, but they are planning to apply in the next application cycle. The spokesperson said she did not know why the university hadn’t applied.

Several other universities, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the largest institution of higher education in the state, confirmed to Inside Higher Ed that they had applied for their campus cards to be used at polling places. The North Carolina State Board of Elections did not respond to a question about the status of the applications.

“The University is committed to supporting the ability of our students, faculty and staff to exercise their constitutional right to vote. We submitted UNC OneCards for approval for the 2023 municipal elections,” UNC spokesperson Pace Sagester wrote in an email.

On the other hand, a handful of states have tried to either add student IDs as a valid form of voter identification this year or expand which students can use their IDs at the polls. Arkansas, for example, expanded its requirements to allow students attending trade schools to use their student IDs to vote.

“Texas was one of the states that actually introduced legislation that would add or expand the use of student ID cards this year,” Bellamy said. “It ultimately failed. But I think that that’s a sign that every single state that’s considered red isn’t necessarily going to take the same approach.”


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