Yang: Silencing Students
By Lorelei Yang, Staff Columnist
Published on Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Last week, the New Hampshire legislature overrode Governor John Lynch’s veto on a bill requiring photo identification to vote in elections, thereby passing one of the most draconian voter ID laws in the United States. If the Department of Justice approves it, the new law, which is set to go into effect in September 2013, will suddenly make New Hampshire’s election process significantly less accessible to elderly, low-income and student voters who are least likely to have the specific forms of ID permissible.
Under the old law, election officials accepted a broad range of identification from voters, including U.S. passports, driver’s licenses, non-driver ID cards, military ID and student IDs, even if they were expired. Individual election officials were also permitted to accept other forms of photo identification on a discretionary basis, as long as the ID included the elector’s name and current address. Additionally, voters who lacked the proper identification but whose names were in the precinct register were allowed to cast provisional ballots after signing affidavits of identity.
The new voter ID law will radically change things: State agency, municipal and valid student IDs will be phased out, as will local election officials’ discretionary authority to recognize other valid photo IDs. When it goes into effect, the new law will allow only four forms of identification — a driver’s license, non-driver ID card from the Department of Motor Vehicles, a military ID or a U.S. passport — and only if they are not expired. Finally, while the new law still allows voters without identification to cast provisional ballots, it requires such voters to consent to having their pictures taken in addition to signing an affidavit of identity.
It takes no stretch of the imagination to see how this law might disproportionately affect certain segments of New Hampshire’s electorate. Low-income and elderly populations are less likely to drive and thus are significantly less likely to have valid driver’s licenses.
The cost of obtaining a non-driver ID, while nominal to those in the middle or upper class, may present itself as a frivolous and unnecessary expenditure to a family that is already struggling to make ends meet, particularly in today’s difficult economic climate. A relatively small portion of the population has military IDs, and according to CNN, a mere 30 percent of the U.S. population has a passport.
Many Dartmouth students — some of whom will inevitably lack the identification required under the stringent new ID laws — register to vote in New Hampshire, a contested swing state that also functions as a bellwether in presidential elections. As a significant part of Hanover’s electorate, we must be aware of the New Hampshire legislature’s deliberate machinations that complicate our ability to exercise our right to vote.
At this moment, there are two important things that we, as student voters in New Hampshire, can do to soften the blow of this law. First, it is imperative that we take immediate action to discourage the Department of Justice from approving the new law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which authorizes the federal government to deny specific states, including New Hampshire, the right to change the qualifications for voting if a proposed law is proven to have a discriminatory purpose.
Given that low-income and student voters, who will be disproportionately affected by the new ID law, tend to vote Democratic, and that the currently Republican-held legislature is acutely aware of this fact, it seems clear that the new voter ID law is more about politicking than it is about guaranteeing voters’ constitutional rights to safe and fair elections.
And if the Department of Justice does allow this law to go into effect next fall, it is crucial for us to make sure that we have the proper identification to vote, and that those around us — our friends and the citizens of New Hampshire — have adequate information about the new law’s requirements.