The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Student Senate is charging students for the cost of special IDs needed in order to comply with Wisconsin’s new voter ID law. The ACLU of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Valley Chapter complained about this additional charge to students in a letter sent on February 16 to the University’s Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich, special assistant to the chancellor Teresa O’Halloran, and student body President Phil Rynish. Today’s Eau Claire Leader-Telegram updates the paper’s readers about the status of this unfunded mandate.
UW-Eau Claire campus leadership was, like university and technical colleges across the state, forced into an unnecessary position after Act 23, the voter ID law, was passed. The voter ID law allowed for student IDs to be among the accepted forms of photo IDs now required for citizens to cast a ballot. [However, the law required student IDs to have features that no existing student IDs had at the time the law was enacted.] It became the responsibility of accredited colleges and universities to scramble to create IDs that complied with the law. At a time when college budgets are being slashed, the UWEC Student Senate passed the costs of this unfunded mandate onto students.
The February 16 letter from the Chippewa Valley Civil Liberties Union was an important act of voting rights advocacy from a local organization committed to defending voting rights of student, elderly, low-income and minority voters who are most likely to be disfranchised under the state’s new voter ID law. The ACLU’s Chippewa Valley Chapter letter read:
“Now that Wisconsin’s Voter Identification Act is law, certain groups of voters, including college students, may be turned away from the polls this year when they were otherwise eligible to vote before the law was passed.
“As you are aware, this law restricts voting rights by requiring one of a limited type of government-issued photo IDs, eliminating corroboration of identity at registration, and requiring voters to have lived in their residence for a longer period of time. For University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students in particular, this law prohibits the use of their school ID as it requires identification that includes the student’s current address, date of birth, and signature, information that the university-issued ID lacks. For students who lack the official identification stipulated by the law, this presents a potential obstacle for their participation in the voting process.
“Although the administration of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has made an effort to assist those students who need a government-issued photo ID compliant with the new law, the fact is, charging students money in order to obtain an ID for voting purposes is effectively a poll tax. This is a violation of the 24th amendment. The university should offer the student IDs for free.
“In our view, requiring only certain types of photo ID imposes a burden on the right to vote that violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. While the university is not responsible for a law that is unjust in the first place, the university can, and should, minimize the harm of such a law by upholding students’ 24th amendment rights. As a university whose mission includes fostering ‘intellectual courage’ in its students and providing them with a ‘foundation for active citizenship’ it is the very least you can do in this situation.
Stephanie Turner, President”
This letter isn’t a threat of litigation. It is a call to action. The state voter ID law discriminates against students who would otherwise be eligible to vote. That’s why the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of student voters as well as other eligible citizens who will not be able to vote this year due to the new law. Read more about the types of voters who will find trouble with Voter ID.
The best way for the UW-Eau Claire to support all student voting rights is not to charge students for the identification required under state law. But charging students to cover the cost of the new IDs is only a symptom of a larger problem: Voter ID. We’re taking that problem to federal court. UW-Eau Claire students can help us fight the state law by contacting the ACLU of Wisconsin if they do not have one of the other accepted forms of ID (such as a passport or Wisconsin Driver’s License) and can’t get a free Wisconsin ID. Tell us your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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