Many Pennsylvania colleges are taking on the burden of ensuring their students can vote in the upcoming presidential election.
The voter identification law, which passed in March and was upheld August 15 by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, requires photo IDs from accredited Pennsylvania colleges and universities to have an expiration date to be valid at the polls. The PennCard is valid because it has an expiration date.
According to a study done in April by the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group, 91 accredited colleges surveyed at the time did not have acceptable IDs. These schools enroll over half a million — or around 84 percent — of students in Pennsylvania, according to the study.
Penn, along with Drexel, Villanova and Temple universities currently meet the ID requirements.
Colleges with invalid IDs, such as Bryn Mawr College and Penn State University, are taking steps to ensure their IDs will be valid by November. Most are affixing stickers with an expiration date, an acceptable form of providing an expiration date under the law.
Press Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of State Ron Ruman said the government had been “fairly flexible” in expiration date stickers. The stickers, he added, could give a specific date or read “fall semester 2012” as an expiration date.
Most institutions producing the stickers have said the cost is negligible. According to Doreen Tobin, vice president for student affairs at East Stroudsburg University, ESU is producing the stickers “in house,” costing a cent per sticker. As of fall 2011, 7,353 students were enrolled in ESU.
Josh Stern, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Arcadia University and a 1999 Graduate School of Education alumnus, wrote in an email that it would cost under $100 to have the stickers printed. Arcadia enrolls around 6,000 graduate and undergraduate students.
Haverford College produced its stickers via Microsoft Word, according to its OneCard administrator John Castrege. The college paid $34.99 for 8,000 stickers, which will serve its 1,198 students.
ESU also dealt with the decision of when to allow its stickers to expire. They chose to print December 2012 on the stickers for upperclassmen. New freshmen will be issued IDs with nine semesters until the expiration date.
“We couldn’t arbitrarily give everyone nine semesters,” Tobin said. Upperclassmen who want an ID with an expiration date will need to pay $10 for it, less than the regular replacement fee of $25.
Bryn Mawr which has 1,300 undergraduates and 400 graduate students, is issuing new IDs for all students.
“We called Voter Services, and there were no guidelines [for the stickers],” said Ellie Esmond, co-director of the Civic Engagement Office at Bryn Mawr. Esmond said she was unable to find consistent rules for what information had to be printed on expiration stickers.
“I’m concerned that it’s very open to interpretation on campuses,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot of confusion at the polls.”
However, some Pennsylvania colleges are not moving to make their student IDs valid at the polls.
“Price was one of the issues,” PennPIRG Program Associate Angela Lee said. “A lot of [the schools] were saying they weren’t aware of the law and weren’t doing anything.” PennPIRG has been raising awareness about the law on college campuses and helping them comply with the law.
They have been printing reminder cards and registering new youth voters, according to Lead Organizer for PennPIRG Students Vanessa Wright.
“We have a western county with the lowest turnout across the board,” she said. “It’s really important to make it as easy as possible to register to vote.”
Students whose schools are not providing valid ID will have to rely on other forms, such as a Pennsylvania drivers’ license or a U.S. passport. Without those, they will have to get a photo ID card for voting purposes at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Those wishing to do so must present two proofs of residency, such as an utility bill or a piece of mail addressed to a dormitory.
While some colleges have PennDOT centers in their zipcode, other students looking to vote will have to travel much farther. Lee described Elizabethtown College, which enrolls approximately 2,300 undergraduates, as being reluctant to buy stickers due to cost. Elizabethtown is approximately 14 miles away from the nearest PennDOT that issues photo ID cards. Distances range from less than a mile to about 26 miles.
To get a photo ID card from PennDOT, students with an out of state drivers’ license must surrender their license to get the card.
“If you get a secure Pennsylvania photo ID, you’re declaring residency here,” PennDOT spokesperson Jan McKnight said. “You can only declare residency in one place.”
Lee found this measure “restrictive.”
“I don’t think many [students] would want to relinquish their license to get a Pennsylvania voter ID,” she said.
The voter ID ruling from the Commonwealth Court will be appealed in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in September. The oral arguments are expected to conclude on Sept. 13.
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