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Wisconsin Voter ID Law Becomes A Hardship For Colleges, And Raises Concerns Of A Poll Tax


First Posted: 02/13/2012 3:22 pm Updated: 02/13/2012 5:07 pm

WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin's controversial new voter identification law has the state's colleges scrambling since they provide ID cards that students will be able to use at the polls. But one school's solution is raising concerns about its constitutionality.

Certain types of student identification can be used at the polls to comply with the newlaw that requires all voters to show a photo ID. Advocates of the measure, including Republican Gov. Scott Walker (R), say it will help to crack down on voter fraud, while critics contend it will suppress voting among poor and elderly people.

Colleges might be especially affected by Wisconsin's law because it requires voter IDs to have an expiration date of two years, leading most four-year institutions to issue special cards for students who lack other forms of identification.

"We worked with our legislators, asking them to take into consideration the existing IDs, but that didn't go through under the law," Mike Rindo, a spokesman for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, told The Huffington Post.

Most Wisconsin state colleges have arranged to offer students free voter IDs, which the University of Wisconsin-Madison estimated could cost more than $100,000 just for that school.

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire administration decided instead to charge students what Rindo called a "nominal fee" of $2 per card. "The law does not require universities to provide student IDs for voting. But we thought it important that we work with our student government to provide IDs, so that's what we did," Rindo said. "The $2 is simply the cost of providing the cards."

But state Rep. Gary Hebl (D) said that the $2 fee could amount to a poll tax, illegal under the 24th Amendment. "My concern is this When you make voting so difficult that they have to wait in line and apply for an ID, that's not what our Constitution is set up for," he said.

Hebl questioned whether voter fraud was frequent enough to merit the new legislation. "The voter ID is just a solution looking for a problem that does not exist," he said.

While the cost for an ID isn't high, Hebl said, it goes against Wisconsin's history of making it easy for people to vote. "It's the principle of the thing," he said. "Two dollars to some students could be their next meal. We're going through very tough times in our state, with a lot of unemployment."

Stacy Harbaugh, the communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, agreed. "Frankly, I can't imagine that this practice will last long because it is so obviously a poll tax," she said via an email. "However, opponents to to [the] Voter ID law said that particularly with student IDs, it would be essentially an unfunded mandate that the government would be handing down to our university system."

Rindo also lamented the financial burden posed by the new ID requirements but said the university had consulted with the state's Government Accountability Board -- which oversees elections -- and its own lawyers before making a decision and was doing its best to help students vote. "The university is seeing the largest budget reductions in its history this year," he said. "Students are paying more and more per year for tuition, and now they're seeing this nominal fee on top of that. But it is what it is in terms of the law, and we're working with students to help them exercise their constitutional right to vote."

As of Feb. 7, 11 of the school's 11,000 students had requested a new ID at his school, and only one had complained about the cost, Rindo said.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit in December against the Wisconsin photo ID requirement. The suit calls the law unconstitutional, saying it will disproportionately affect students, as well as homeless, elderly and minority citizens. Another suit target="_hplink">filed by the League of Women Voters against the law is pending, with arguments in court scheduled for March 9. A judge recently denied a third suit by the NAACP to stop the law from going into effect before the state's Feb. 21 primary.

Thirteen other states have voter ID laws in place.

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