In 2011, Texas implemented legislation that required a registered citizen to bring one of seven forms of photo ID to the polls in order to vote. It is estimated that this requirement could prevent 600,000 registered Texas voters from voting because they lack an acceptable form of ID.
While photo ID requirements look like they’re here to stay, one state representative is working to help ease the burden it places on students. House Bill 733, filed by state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, would make voting more accessible for UT students by allowing them to use a school ID or a Veteran Health Identification Card at the voting booth.
The current forms of photo ID that are accepted are often inconvenient or expensive for students, especially for out-of-state students who don’t have a Texas driver’s license.
Current law would require them to go to the Department of Public Safety in order to get a state-issued ID to vote. While they can be issued an election identification certificate there free of charge, it can be difficult for students without a car to get to the DPS, as the closest driver’s license office is nearly four miles from campus.
Students also have the option to get a passport card in West Campus, but it will cost them $55 — too high a price to exercise a constitutional right. Short of getting a concealed handgun license, joining the military or applying for a citizenship certificate (if they are American citizens who were born overseas), students are suddenly out of options for being able to vote if they can’t afford these options or didn’t bring the necessary paperwork with them to college.
In contrast, if HB 733 became law, UT students would be able to use their student ID issued by the University. For out-of-state students, this would allow them to use a non-Texas license to obtain a student ID. Instead of requiring a trip to the DPS, they could go to the Flawn Academic Center on campus. HB 733 would also make Veteran Health Identification Cards an acceptable form of ID, making voting even easier for over 1,000 student veterans at UT.
While many supporters of having strict photo ID requirements would argue that this opens up the possibility of voter fraud by those ineligible to vote, this is simply not the case.
Individuals must still comply with eligibility requirements, such as being a citizen when they register to vote in Texas, and this information is subsequently verified. Since 2000, only two people in the state of Texas have been convicted of in-person voter impersonation, which voter ID is supposedly intended to address.
This lack of evidence that voter fraud is occurring anywhere near a significant amount would suggest that the procedures previously in place were already adequate. However, in order to address the two cases of voter fraud that could have been prevented by a photo ID, hundreds of thousands of Texans could now be lacking the identification necessary to vote.
Many of these Texans are specifically out-of-state students, who would benefit from Israel’s bill. When students move to Austin, they become a part of our community and they deserve the right to vote here. By making it exceedingly difficult for students to vote where they live, the current voter ID laws deny them this right and prevent them from becoming civically engaged. If we want students to vote and have a voice in issues affecting them, we must first make sure they have the ability to vote.
HB 733 doesn’t come close to solving all of the issues that come with photo ID requirements. It still creates an effective poll tax and hundreds of thousands of Texans will still lack access to an acceptable ID. However, it is a commendable effort to amend the Legislature’s previous decisions. By expanding the types of ID accepted, HB 733 specifically makes voting more accessible for all students.
Alcantara is a Plan II sophomore from Houston. She is the communications director for University Democrats.