Iowa legislators highlight voter ID laws at an Iowa City forum

Iowa legislators talked to about 25 community members at the Englert on Thursday at a forum aimed to engage young people in politics


Megan Nagorzanski

Senator Zach Wahls answers questions during a Youth in Politics Forum at The Englert Theatre on Thursday, September 26, 2019.

Rylee Wilson, News Reporter

State legislators, student leaders, and community members — both young and old — gathered to talk about issues facing young people in Iowa, with voter turnout and voter ID laws on the top of people’s minds. 

Sens. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, and Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, took questions from the audience in a forum at the Englert, moderated by Jocelyn Roof, founder of Hawk the Vote, an initiative to encourage voter turnout on the University of Iowa campus. 

According to Tufts University, turnout on college campuses nationally increased 19.7% from 2014 to 2018. 

A law passed in 2017, which took effect in 2019, requires Iowa voters to present a government-issued ID when voting. Critics say the law places an unnecessary burden on citizens looking to vote, and students on college campuses are not able to use their university ID cards.

Recently, Iowa State University announced students will be able to use student IDs at the polls after an ISU student sued the state, saying the voter ID law violated the Iowa Constitution. 

Wahls said that reforming student voter ID laws are one of the most important ways to get students involved in the legislative process. 

“One of the ways students will be involved in the legislative process is they vote. Making sure we are removing barriers to the ballot box for young people, for students, it’s incredibly important,” Wahls said.  

RELATED: University of Iowa student IDs not valid for polls

The event was presented by NextGen Iowa, an organization that works to organize youth voters. 

Anthony Zarzycki, a regional organizing director for NextGen in eastern Iowa, said the concerns of young people are not always represented in politics. 

“Historically, young people have not turned out to vote, and what you see from that is a legislature, whether it’s in Iowa, or whether its in congress, that is much older and cares about issues which can be disadvantageous to young people,” Zarzycki said.

Outside of voter ID laws, affordable housing was another issue raised by the attendees at the forum. 

Wahls stressed the importance of federal action, especially on the issue of affordable housing. He said one of the most important things the Iowa Legislature can do is allow cities like Iowa City to govern their own housing policies. 

“The biggest thing we can do at the state level is to make sure we don’t get too involved in regulating that,” Wahls said. “One of the things we’ve seen is that when Iowa city wants to do something, the Iowa Legislature says ‘no, you can’t do that.’” 

Climate change was another prominent issue at the forum among attendees and Bolkcom and Wahls. 

Bolkcom said he believes climate change is the most important issue facing Iowa specifically.

“We have enormous issues in Iowa agriculture in terms of our job of protecting the most productive soils in the world from extreme rain and more heat waves and droughts,” Bolkcom said. 

UI student Laura Widman, who attended the forum, said she thinks climate change is the most important issue facing young voters. 

“I believe we don’t have a future without changes to our climate policy without our cities, our counties, our state, our world community doing something to change,” Widman said.

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