Legislature does the right thing by making it easier for students to vote

We applaud the state legislature for passing HB4077 last week, which makes it easier for young people to cast ballots for the first time.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Naomi Jakobsson and Sen. Mike Frerichs, both of Champaign-Urbana, allows people voting for the first time to present a university-issued ID and a piece of mail at their local address or an apartment lease as proof of identification. In past elections, including last fall’s, many students were turned away from polls on campus for not having proper documentation. The old requirements demanded voters show a driver’s license with a local address, which many students don’t have, or two other forms of ID with a local address, and leases were not accepted.

The ID requirement stems from the fact that voters can now register by mail without showing any proof of identification. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires first time voters who register by mail to show some form of identification, and other voters can be asked for ID as well.

In a November 2008 article, the News-Gazette quoted sophomore John Adams as saying, “You wonder why 18 to 24-year-olds don’t vote, it’s because they make it impossible.” Adams was turned away several times for not having proper id, and finally didn’t vote. Many young people feel alienated from the political process as it is, and being turned away from voting on their first attempt due to a technicality will only make them less engaged in the future. The new procedure, while still upholding the integrity of the voting process, will remove obstacles that keep young people from being active in the political process. In the 2008 presidential election, turnout in the 18-24 demographic was 48.5%, the highest level since 1992, but significantly less than the 67% turnout rate for voters 30 and older. Turnout for local elections is even worse– only 130 students voted on campus in the local elections on April 7th, compared to 8,000 students voting in the presidential election.

Of course, paperwork obstacles aren’t the only ones keeping young voters away from the polls, but the state legislature’s action is a step in the right direction. College students voting away from home often don’t have easy access to personal records, and providing other options to prove identification will make us more likely to vote. With wars raging in the Mideast that we could be drafted into, a recession that will slow down our job searches after graduation, and an ongoing crunch in funding for higher education, it’s more important than ever that young people make their voices heard at the polls. Props to Jakobsson, Frerichs, and the rest of the legislature for making that easier.