Eliminating Barriers to Voting: How Allowing College Students to Use Their Student IDs to Vote in Certain Southeastern States Can Help Make Voting Great in America
49 U. Mem. L. Rev. 1185 (2019)
47 Pages Posted: 28 Jun 2019
Date Written: June 27, 2019
College students are often encouraged to be leaders and engaged citizens in our democratic society. One important way that college students are engaged citizens in this country is by being involved in the electoral process. Chief Justice Earl Warren in Reynolds v. Sims stated that “[t]he right to vote freely for the candidate of one’s choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government.” It is common knowledge that “[c]ollege students are a critical—and very large—voting constituency who are often at the forefront of political activism.” Presidential candidates traditionally debate on college and university campuses, and this is not by accident. In fact, nationally, voters under The U.S. Supreme Court in its 1979 landmark decision Symm v. United States upheld the constitutional right of students to register and vote wherever they attend college. When considering whether to register to vote in their college community or in their hometowns, college students, by law, can register to vote in either location, but not in both locations. In addition, “a bedrock principle is that states cannot make it more difficult for students than for others to vote (or ask them questions that they would not ask others who are similarly situated). State voter identification (“ID”) laws require voters to present an acceptable form of ID to vote at polling locations. Yet U.S. Supreme Court decisions, such as the monumental Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, have affirmed particular state-imposed voting requirements, including strict voter ID laws, which often have a negative impact upon college students and their ability to use their student IDs for voting purposes at the polls on Election Day in certain states. Therefore, despite the Symm decision and other constitutional protections,state voter ID laws in certain Southeastern states remain inequitable when applied to college students, including Tennessee’s voter ID law. Some states in the Southeastern region have voter ID laws that make it easier for students to use their college student IDs to vote in their particular state. Other Southeastern states have voter ID laws that make it difficult or virtually impossible for college students to use their student IDs for voting purposes. Although some Southeastern states accept college student IDs as acceptable forms of identification on Election Day,certain other Southeastern states do not. In fact, certain state voter ID laws, such as Tennessee’s, explicitly reject college student IDs from being used for voting purposes. In states such as Georgia, students attending public colleges can use their college IDs for voting purposes; however, students in Georgia attending private higher education institutions cannot use their college IDs to vote. A comparative analysis of state voter ID laws as they relate to college students and their ability to use their college student IDs for voting purposes during the 2012 Presidential Election, the 2016 Presidential Election, and the recent 2018 Midterm Elections in seven Southeastern states, including Tennessee, and the six Southeastern states contiguous to Tennessee: including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Virginia, is the focus of this Article. Some Southeastern state voter ID laws are more “college student friendly” than others. In this Article, which expands from a previous law review article I wrote in 2014, states are “categorized as either a ‘college student friendly state’ or a ‘college student unfriendly state’ based solely upon whether college student IDs were an acceptable form of ID for voting purposes” during the 2012 Presidential Election, the 2016 Presidential Election, and the recent 2018 Midterm Elections. Part II of this Article provides a brief history and synopsis of state voter ID laws in general and the overall impetus behind voter ID laws in the U.S., discusses key constitutional provisions related to college students’ right to vote, and emphasizes significant U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding college students’ voting rights and voter ID laws. Part III summarizes “college student friendly states” and “college student unfriendly states” in seven select Southeastern states during the November 2012 Presidential Election and the November 2016 Presidential Election. Part IV provides some of the major arguments for and against strict photo ID laws and allowing college student IDs for voter verification purposes at the polls on Election Day, including those made in some of the select Southeastern states. Part V emphasizes the status of voter ID laws in these Southeastern states as they relate to college students and their ability to use their college student IDs for voting purposes during the November 6, 2018 Midterm Elections. Part V also discusses how students attending college in Tennessee would have fewer restrictions imposed on their right to vote on Election Day if they lived or attended a college in another Southeastern state close to Tennessee. Part VI concludes that despite the arguments articulated for refusing to allow college student IDs to be used for voting purposes, especially by certain Tennessee legislators, legislators in all six Southeastern states contiguous to Tennessee, including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Virginia, have demonstrated their commitment to providing college students with easier access to voting at the polls on Election Day. Part VI also recommends that if certain Southeastern states truly want to eliminate barriers to voting, especially Tennessee, they should allow students attending both public and private colleges and universities to use their college student IDs to vote where they attend college to really make voting great in America.
Keywords: voter ID, voter identification laws, college student IDs, voting rights, elections, election laws, Southeastern states
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