New voting laws may lessen voting participation at Rice
Last year, more students at Rice came out to vote in the gubernatorial election – a quadrupled increase – than in the last mid-term election. Achieving similar success may now virtually be impossible. Voters everywhere in Texas have been struck by a blunt force with the Texas Legislature's passage of S.B. 14, a new law requiring voters to have photo identification and a listed address that matches their voter registration to be eligible to vote.
The law will be enacted in January 2012, pending approval from the U.S. Department of Justice this Friday.
As the Election Judge for the Rice precinct last November, it was difficult enough to get registered students to come out to vote (even with the voting site conveniently located in the Rice Memorial Center), but now the very piece of evidence that most students use to vote, their out-of-state driver's license or Rice University Student ID, will no longer be sufficient.
The new law requires voters to present a form of photo identification: driver's license, personal identification card, concealed handgun license (all issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety), U.S. passport, U.S. military card or U.S. citizenship certificate that includes the person's photograph, or an election identification certificate (for those without photo ID).
This Voter ID law immediately raised a red flag in my head. At a university like Rice where almost half of the student population is from out of state (42 percent), their ability to vote on campus is compromised. Many out-of-state students who move to Rice do not immediately (if ever) change their driver's license to reflect their Texas residence.
That means out-of-state students (and Houstonians who choose to vote on campus) would most likely have to vote with their passport or stand in the much beloved DMV lines to obtain a new card reflecting the address they registered to vote with. This also includes anyone who has had a name change or anyone who loses their wallet or ID without enough time for a replacement. They may be forced to vote provisionally, which means their ballot goes to a committee to consider whether it would be counted in the election or not.
Of course, there's also the option to obtain absentee ballots to vote back home. That, however, requires applying for a mail-in-ballot before every election, including the primaries, special, and general November elections.
I would hate to see the Rice polling location eliminated in future years due to lack of voters. In the end, it is a matter of where you want your influence to be. Where will your vote make the most impact? If your goal, however, is to physically and mentally live in Houston, having a say in local politics and local decisions will now take a bit more of an effort.
If the goal of the Voter ID law is to increase meaningful access to the voting process for all citizens, then S.B. 14 does NOT do it justice. Friday is the last day to sign an on-line petition to the DOJ to stop S.B. 14 from pre-clearance approval. Visit www.youngvoters.org/ Texas. The new requirements could essentially disenfranchise the youngest sector of voters – college age students. Making it difficult for them to vote now may discourage them from the pipeline of voters in the future.
Cindy Dinh is a McMurtry College alumna '11.
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