Voter ID amendment will disenfranchise students

On Sunday, Vice President of Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart reminded us again that the University of Minnesota believes that voting is an important civic duty. It should be free and easy for students to participate in their democracy. That is why on Tuesday night, the undergraduate (MSA) and graduate and professional student (GAPSA) associations together passed resolutions encouraging fellow students to vote no on the Minnesota constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2012 that restricts students from voting.

This amendment may sound like common sense to many students and Minnesotans — after all, we need IDs to accomplish a lot of tasks in daily life. But when you take a closer look, you see that this poorly written amendment is way too complicated and has serious unintended consequences for students and young people.

This amendment would drastically restrict students’ right to vote. First, it would eliminate your ability to use your U Card to register to vote, including if you register on Election Day. The lead proponent of this amendment said in a public debate just last week: “College identification of any kind is not going to be permitted by the Legislature” for voting if the amendment passes.

This is a huge change that will make it a lot harder for students to vote. Right now, if you live on campus, all you need to do is bring your U Card to your polling place or bring a roommate or friend from the precinct to vouch that you live there, but if this amendment passes, this simple and effective system won’t work anymore.

Instead, you’ll have two bad choices. You can cast a so-called “provisional ballot,” which won’t be counted on Election Day. If you’ve moved between elections and haven’t paid to update your ID, you will likely fall under this category. Your vote will only be counted if sometime after Election Day, you can get an undefined “government-issued” ID, then return to the county auditor and prove who you are. But we don’t know what kind of “government-issued” IDs will be acceptable. All we do know is that student IDs, even from public universities, won’t count.

Or you can drive to your parents’ home to vote, if that’s the address on your driver’s license — and that might be in Hibbing, Morris, Worthington or Moorhead. Think about it: We can’t even get an excused-absence policy on Election Day; who thinks professors will let us miss class to drive to Warroad and vote?

And you’re going to have trouble if you vote absentee at your home address, too. No one knows how the rigid requirements of the amendment will allow any absentee vote to be counted.

Students and young people also move a lot, and this amendment would penalize us for that, too. Right now, our elections system is flexible and provides ways for people who move a lot to vote — as it should. Our elections system was built this way to encourage all eligible voters to vote. That is why Minnesota’s premier election system is nationally admired, and why we lead the nation in turnout every year. But that all changes for the worse if this voter restriction amendment passes.

The voter restriction amendment also concerns us because it could prevent another group of young people from voting: our military. Right now, military serving abroad simply certify that they are eligible — and since they’re serving our country, that’s good enough. But the amendment has no exemptions for military members and would not allow them to use their government-issued military IDs because those IDs don’t include an address. It’s already difficult to get to a DMV here at home; we couldn’t imagine trying to find a DMV to update your ID in Afghanistan.

Finally, the voter restriction amendment will cost taxpayers more than $50 million to implement — which means even fewer dollars available for education. This is extremely frustrating considering that double-digit tuition increases are now common, and still the Legislature wants to prioritize fixing a system that isn’t broken.

This amendment would restrict the rights that eligible students and young people currently have. For us, there is a clear choice: We vote to support the University community and each other as students, so we will “vote no!” We urge you to join us and “vote no” Nov. 6 on this amendment that makes it more difficult and expensive for us to vote.