CHICAGO — Gone are the days when young voters weren't taken seriously. In 2008, they helped propel Barack Obama into the Oval Office, supporting him by a 2-1 margin.

But that higher profile also has landed them in the middle of the debate over some state laws that regulate voter registration and how people identify themselves at the polls.

Since the last election, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Wisconsin and Texas and other states have tried to limit or ban the use of student IDs as voter identification. In Florida, lawmakers tried to limit "third party" organizations, including student groups, from registering new voters.

Proponents of voter ID and registration laws say the laws are intended to combat voter fraud. The intent, they say, is to make sure people who are voting are who they say they are and have the right to vote.

"In this day and age, nothing could be more rational than requiring a photo ID when voters come to the polls," Pennsylvania's senior deputy attorney general, Patrick Cawley, said recently when defending the state's new law in court.

Others see these efforts as attempts to squelch the aspirations of the budding young voting bloc and other groups, and they're using that claim to try to get more young people fired up.

"You think your vote doesn't matter? Then why are they trying so hard to take it away from you?" asks Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, a group that works to register young voters. "It does demonstrate the power they have."

Smith notes that it's not just an issue for college students.

She was teaching a civics class for graduating seniors at an inner-city high school in Philadelphia this spring and asked how many among them had driver's licenses that could be used, if the Pennsylvania law requiring a photo ID to vote were to survive the legal challenge.

"They looked at me like I had two heads," she says. Only two students in the room of 200 raised a hand; few of the students had cars.

These are the sort of stories that have led some students to get involved, particularly on college campuses.

In Florida, Rock The Vote joined with the League of Women Voters to challenge restrictions on "third party" voter registration. A federal judge said last spring that many of the restrictions made it too difficult for legitimate voter registration organizations to do their work. During the fight, students at the University of Central Florida placed ironing boards around campus, a symbol that they were "pressing the issue."

Now, while most college campuses are relatively quiet, some of those students have taken it upon themselves to register their peers during freshman orientation this summer.

"We feel like it's up to us," says Anna Eskamani, a 22-year-old graduate student and a leader at the Florida school.

In Pennsylvania, when lawmakers were proposing the voter ID law there, 22-year-old Adam Boyer was among students who asked them to reconsider an outright ban on the use of student IDs.

"I'd like to think that the proponents of this law weren't trying to disenfranchise certain demographics. I hope it was an oversight on their part, and I think that was the case," says Boyer, a recent graduate of Penn State who plans to attend law school at Villanova this fall.

Pennsylvania lawmakers decided to allow "valid" student IDs, meaning they had to have expiration dates. But most colleges and universities in Pennsylvania didn't have such dates on their IDs.

So students and other groups that advocate for them have been working with universities in Pennsylvania and states such as Wisconsin to add them. A state judge struck down Wisconsin's voter ID law; that ruling is being appealed.

New IDs at institutions such as Penn State, for instance, now have expiration dates. Returning students also can get an expiration sticker to put on their IDs, a common plan at schools that are addressing the ID issue.

Joel Weidner, a Penn State official who helps oversee ID policy, says the school is most concerned about out-of-state students who might rely on a student ID to vote if they don't have a Pennsylvania driver's license. Of the 80,000 Penn State students on campuses statewide, he estimates that about 10,000 are from other states.

But in many instances, returning students still have to be aware that they need the expiration sticker and know where to get one.

"What we don't want to see is a school offering up a change to students but doing it quietly," says Dan Vicuna, staff attorney and campus vote project coordinator at the Fair Elections Legal Network in Washington. "We really hope it will be coupled with a real public awareness campaign."

Voter ID and registration aren't the only voting issues on campuses.

Long lines and a lack of polling places have been problems for students in past elections, particularly in 2008. So some universities are trying to get polling places on campus. Arizona State is among those that recently approached election officials and got one.

In Ohio, student groups are working with county officials to lengthen early voting

"Some have been more receptive to that than others," says Will Klatt, a recent graduate of Ohio University who is now a senior organizer for the Ohio Student Association.

All the rules, and the differences in them state to state and even county to county, can create a lot of confusion for young voters, some of whom are voting for the first time

In Wisconsin, during a gubernatorial recall election in June, the League of Women Voters received 200 calls from students who said voting requirements caused confusion at the polls. Many, the league said, left without voting. The confusion, in that instance, was over a requirement that Wisconsin voters live in a precinct for 28 days to be eligible to vote there. That's a tricky requirement for students, who are often mobile in the summer months.

Last year in Maine, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union criticized Secretary of State Charlie Summers after he sent letters to out-of state students at four universities telling them they needed to register their vehicles in Maine and get driver's licenses there if they wanted to continue voting in the state. Some saw the move as voter intimidation and a violation of the Voting Rights Act, particularly because Summers found no evidence of voter fraud in an investigation that prompted the letters.

Summers' spokeswoman said the secretary of state had consulted with the Maine attorney general and "acted in accordance with all state and federal laws."

The U.S. Supreme Court has sided with students on this issue and their ability to vote where they attend school, even when they've come from another state.

"So students should be registering in the communities that they feel are home – whether that's their parents' home or their apartment or their dorm room," says Lee Rowland, counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan legal think tank in New York. "It is a constitutional right to vote."

To help them understand that right, she says the Brennan Center created an online guide for students with pages that detail voting rules and requirements in each state –

It's not uncommon for out-of-state students to vote where they think their vote has the most impact. So if they attend a school in a swing state, they often vote there. It also can simply just be a matter of convenience, and a way to avoid going through the process of getting an absentee ballot.

Right now, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Indiana and Georgia are among states with voter ID requirements in place. Tennessee is the only state that bans use of any student ID. Others limit use to state institutions and/or require proof that the ID is valid, such as the expiration date.

Wisconsin, Texas, South Carolina and Virginia are among states where voter ID laws are on hold due to legal challenges.

But will young people vote in November in the same numbers as they did in 2008?

Eskamani, the grad student in Florida, has noticed a lot of disillusionment among her peers over the economy and a political process they consider "anti-student."

"They feel beaten down," says Eskamani. "Instead of more passionate, I think sometimes they feel more frustrated."

Some think that frustration could fuel more involvement, especially as students return to campus this fall.

"My hope is that (voter ID and other laws) backfire and that young people find out and are annoyed by it – and that it motivates them more to get out and vote," says Tobin Van Ostern, policy manager for Campus Progress, a Washington-based group that works on voting rights and other issues relevant to students.

If that happens, Eskamani tells her peers, "WE will determine who the next president of the United States is."


Martha Irvine is a national writer for The Associated Press. She can be reached at mirvine(at) or at



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  • Pennsylvania

    You're an average voter in Pennsylvania. The night before Election Day, your wallet goes missing, leaving you without immediate access to any of the identification you'll need to vote at your local precinct the following morning. This would be a problem under <a href="" target="_hplink">Pennsylvania's proposed photo ID law</a>, since <a href="" target="_hplink">blocked by a state judge</a>. While many people in this situation may have backup forms of identification, <a href="" target="_hplink">studies have shown</a> that a significant percentage of would-be voters don't. The state's safeguard against the immediate disenfranchisement of people in this situation would be a provisional ballot cast on the day of the election. But this doesn't mean your vote counts, yet. Anyone who casts a provisional ballot is required to "appear in person at the county board of elections" within six days of the vote to provide proof that their ballot was valid. If you're able to take time away from your job to do this, the process still requires a would-be voter to either show up with valid ID -- a replacement driver's license <a href="" target="_hplink">would cost $36</a> and considerable time -- or to <a href="" target="_hplink">sign an affirmation</a> that you are indigent and not able to afford the fees associated with acquiring a photo ID. Even if you make a rapid and somewhat expensive turnaround to get a replacement ID -- or alternatively swear under oath that you are too poor to pay for such a document -- there is no guarantee that your vote will end up counting. Many elections are largely decided before provisional voters have a chance to verify their validity, which could serve to discouraging them from following up with election officials or leave them effectively disenfranchised. In 2008, <a href=" Election Administration and Voting Survey EAVS Report.pdf" target="_hplink">only 61.8 percent</a> of all provisional ballots cast were fully counted. If strict photo ID measures were implemented, however, the number of provisional ballots submitted would likely increase, as would the requirements for voters hoping to make them count. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>

  • Georgia

    Eleven percent of eligible voters say they lack current government-issued photo IDs, a <a href="" target="_hplink">survey</a> on the potential impact of voter ID laws found. You live in Georgia and you're one of them. Like 66,515 other Georgians, according to a <a href="" target="_hplink">recent study</a> from the Brennan Center for Justice, you also lack vehicle access and live more than 10 miles from an office that issues state ID. As a registered voter who's skipped the past few elections, you decide you'll vote this year. But you spend your life working multiple jobs to provide for your family, not tuned in to a news cycle that may have told you about a voter ID law that changed the requirements. If you were aware of the measure, you'd know that you have to get yourself to a state office during business hours to procure a photo ID in order to vote. According to the Brennan Center, these facilities are often only open part time, especially in areas with the highest concentration of people of color and in poverty. While the state does offer a free photo ID initiative, the Brennan Center points out that many of the offices provide confusing or inaccurate information about what Georgians need to do to get one. This may be a tough task as you juggle a strenuous work schedule with other commitments -- and that's assuming you're aware of the requirement. But you're not, so you head to your voting precinct on election day with no access to an acceptable form of identification and vote with a provisional ballot. To <a href=" final.pdf" target="_hplink">verify that ballot</a>, you'll have two days to present appropriate photo ID at your county registrar's office, which at this point wouldn't be doable. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>

  • Tennessee

    As an elderly Tennessee resident, you've made a decades-long Election Day habit of traveling to your local polling place and exercising your franchise. It's an important day for you, and it gives you the rare opportunity to leave your house, where you live alone. For a number of years, you've had an identification card that allows you to vote. But thanks to the state's strict new voter ID law, that document will no longer be sufficient. Reports <a href="" target="_hplink">found</a> that 230,000 Tennesseans older than 60 possess driver's licenses that don't have photos on them. Such ID will not be accepted at polling places in November. While the state has agreed to issue photo IDs free to anyone who asks, a <a href="" target="_hplink">recent study</a> found that only a tiny percentage of potential targets have applied. Perhaps that's because people like you weren't aware of exactly how the change was going to affect them. Maybe you weren't even aware of the change. Poll workers tell you that you can cast a provisional ballot on Election Day. You'll <a href="" target="_hplink">have until</a> "the close of business on the second business day after the election" to find an applicable piece of identification -- which you don't have -- and present it to a designated elections official. Whether it's your lack of an acceptable form of identification, the difficulty in finding transportation back to the elections official, or the prospect of having to go through the drain of the entire process again, you're discouraged, and give up. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>

  • Kansas

    You're a resident of Kansas in your early 60s, fully expecting to vote in November. Your driver's license is your primary form of ID, but you rarely carry it anymore. You don't drive and you haven't traveled abroad in years, leaving your passport expired or lost. In the months before the election, you changed addresses, and for some reason never received a notification from the state reminding you that your license had expired. On the day of the election, you head to your polling place, unaware that you're about to be told your license is expired and therefore invalid according to the state's new voter ID law (Kansans over the age of 65 can use expired IDs, but you're not there yet). You're given a provisional ballot and informed that <a href="" target="_hplink">you must</a> now "provide a valid form of identification to the county election officer in person or provide a copy by mail or electronic means before the meeting of the county board of canvassers." While Kansas says it has <a href="" target="_hplink">historically counted</a> around 70 percent of its provisional ballots, this year provides a different landscape. The next steps can be somewhat difficult, and with the enacting of the state's photo ID law, the use of such ballots will undoubtedly become more commonplace. Faced with disenfranchisement, you must now race against the clock to have your vote included. With no other acceptable forms of ID available, you go about the process of renewing your license. <a href="" target="_hplink">According to the state</a>, this requires you to make your way to a state office, where you'll have to provide a number of identifying documents and pay the fee. By the time you can find someone to chauffeur you through this process -- public transportation is complex and unreliable where you live, <a href="" target="_hplink">even if you're in an urban center</a> -- most of the major election results have been announced on the news. You decide the undertaking isn't worth the time. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>

  • Indiana

    You're a first-time voter in Indiana who <a href="" target="_hplink">registered to vote</a> at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles using your Social Security number, a process that also <a href="" target="_hplink">required you</a> to get a state identification card, which you placed in your wallet. As a recent high school graduate who commutes with other workers to your full time job on a farm, you rarely need to present identification, so you didn't even bother to get a new ID card when it went missing from your locker a few weeks before the election. You risk potential firing when you travel to your polling place with other members of your community on voting day, but you're intent on participating in your first election. Without valid photo ID, however, you don't get to pull the lever. Under Indiana's new photo ID law, you're instead required to fill out a provisional ballot. But you're told you'll still need to jump through additional hoops that could prove too demanding. Now tasked with making visits during business hours to both the Indiana BMV to <a href="" target="_hplink">get a replacement ID</a>, and then to the <a href="" target="_hplink">county elections board</a> to verify your ballot, you decide keeping your job is more important than voting. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>

  • Pennsylvania, Part II

    Viviette Applewhite was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's new voter ID measure. She's a 93-year-old great-great grandmother who has voted regularly for decades. She claimed she didn't have access to any of the documents she'd need to vote. With no driver's license and no birth certificate, needed to get a photo ID, Applewhite said she'd be disenfranchised by the law. And she wasn't the only one. A <a href="" target="_hplink">number of other plantiffs in the ACLU case</a> against Pennsylvania's photo ID law claimed they had been unsuccessful in attempts to get copies of their birth certificates and other papers due to complexities in the state's record-keeping. Most claimed the measure would take away their vote. The law has since been blocked for this election cycle.

  • Georgia, Part II

    You're a longtime resident of Georgia, but you've just recently returned home from a six-month out-of-town assignment from your job. You get into town on the Monday before Election Day. Most of your possessions are still being shipped from halfway across the country. Old friends invite you to a bar to catch up, but in the process of removing your driver's license from your wallet to present to a bouncer, it cracks in half, leaving it officially invalidated. Without a valid license, you won't be able to cast a ballot the next day. You'd renew it and choke down the $20 or more fee <a href="" target="_hplink">for the replacement</a>, but the documents you need to present are in the moving truck. An election official informs you that you can fill out a provision ballot on Election Day. To <a href=" final.pdf" target="_hplink">verify that ballot</a>, you'll have two days afterward to present appropriate photo ID at your county registrar's office. Either you're telling the moving company to drive twice the speed limit for the next 48 hours straight, or you're accepting your disenfranchisement. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>