Why your student ID can’t be used at the polls

Starting in 2019, voters will be required to show an ID to cast a vote, but student IDs from Iowa regent universities and some colleges won’t work, because the cards don’t have an expiration date.


Shivansh Ahuja

Students fill paperwork on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway on Tuesday, September 26, 2017. UISG hosted tables where students could register to vote.

Sarah Watson, Politics Editor

Most students in Iowa won’t be able to use their student IDs to verify their identity at the polls during a period in politics in which groups are trying to encourage young voters to turn out in masses.

The University of Iowa’s Iowa One cards, Iowa State University’s ISUCards, and University of Northern Iowa ID Cards are all photo-identification cards students and staff at Iowa’s three state-funded universities use to check into residence halls, swipe for meals, and go to the gym.

However, because these schools’ student cards don’t have expiration dates, poll workers won’t accept them as IDs as required identification to cast ballots. That requirement will begin in 2019.

Related: Voter-ID law seen as unnecessary by some Iowa county auditors

In 2017, the Iowa Legislature passed an Election Modernization and Integrity Act, which in addition to creating an electronic voter list and implementing new technology at polling locations, also shortened early voting dates and added a requirement for voters to bring IDs.

For this November, those without identification can sign an oath affirming they are who they say they are or bring a registered voter living in the same precinct to affirm their identity.

According to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, nearly all Iowans surveyed say the state’s new voter-ID requirement won’t prevent them from voting.

State university officials say adding an expiration date to the cards would be too expensive.

Officials at the UI, where approximately 44,000 IDs are in circulation, said the additional costs would be hundreds of thousands of dollars extra every year.

“If we implemented a five-year expiration cycle on the Iowa One Card, we estimate that it would cost the university an additional $250,000 per year to reissue cards that have expired,” said Laurie Lentz, the UI director of Treasury Information Systems.

Related: Efforts to attract the youth vote continue as Election Day approaches

Instead, officials point students toward options such as a state-issued identification cards and adding a proof of residence option to university websites.

About 40 percent of full-time and part-time undergraduate students are out-of-state students at the UI, according to the Registrar’s Office spring enrollment profile. The counts are similar for ISU.

In letters from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office sent to colleges and universities across the state, the office made two requests of institutions — to provide students with a form of ID that could be used to verify the students’ identities and an easy-to-print document that students can use to prove their addresses in Election Day registration.

To meet the second request, some Iowa colleges and universities, including the UI and ISU, now have an option to download a PDF that includes their residence-hall contract dates. The PDF can be used to meet one of two requirements to register at the polls on election day. The other requirement is a current photo ID.

Some smaller, private institutions have taken up the ID request from the Secretary of State. Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, which has about 1,800 students enrolled, is transitioning to ID cards with expiration dates. University officials aim to provide students with the new cards before the Nov. 6 elections.

“Although students are not required in the state of Iowa to have a valid ID in 2018 to vote, we wanted to give our students the option to have this going forward as we continue to encourage students to be active participants in their civic responsibilities,” said Mount Mercy Vice President for Student Success Nathan Klein.

ISU student Taylor Blair, who is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit concerning the 2017 voter-ID law, said when he forgot to bring his state-issued voter ID to the polls for an off-cycle election, he was afraid less-engaged students without an Iowa driver’s license would be discouraged from voting. Blair, who is from Wisconsin, said putting an expiration date on student IDs would provide students with an easy option to verify their identities at the polls.

“We have so many students who have so much on their plate. They’re doing school, they’re doing jobs, they’re worried about school activities, they’re worried about student loans. They might forget their flimsy little paper ID,” he said, referring to free state-issued voter IDs.