Post-election, Iowa's SGA presidents take on student voting rights

Earlier this month, Iowa lawmakers proposed new voter ID laws that drew concern from student leaders around the state. Secretary of State Paul Pate met with student body leaders from Iowa’s colleges and universities Wednesday to discuss improvements and next steps on policy change.

After the “voter integrity” legislation caught him and his counterparts off guard, Cole Staudt, student body president at Iowa State University, attended the meeting and welcomed the dialogue. While Secretary Pate’s office has said publically that any Iowa voter would receive a voter ID card for free after registering to vote, student ID cards would not be accepted at polling places.

“I was confused because we worked with [the Secretary of State] on student voter registration over the summer,” said Staudt, who felt the roll out of the proposed voter ID law was flawed because there was not open communication between state officials and stakeholders about the potential changes.

Wednesday’s discussion focused on making policies more student-friendly. According to Staudt, the proposal will require voter IDs. In a tweet, Secretary Pate assured students that the new voter ID cards would be free, but student leaders think changes need to be made to eliminate needless barriers to voting. For example, students think student voter cards should not require addresses since students move so frequently.

“Students would have to get a new card every election,” said Staudt.

Since its introduction, student leaders have raised concerns about the proposal’s $1 million price tag to startup the program. In a joint statement on January 8, 2017, Staudt along with University of Iowa student body president Rachel Zuckerman and University of Northern Iowa student body president Hunter Flesch questioned whether voter fraud is common enough to justify spending state money that could otherwise go to higher education.

“It is extremely frustrating and disheartening to see that our tuition prices continue to rise as our elected officials consider spending our limited state funds on an expensive proposal to fix a virtually non-existent problem,” said the student body presidents at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa in a joint statement.

Student engagement is not new in Iowa--Secretary Pate’s office worked with Staudt and other student leaders last spring to provide voter registration and education trainings to students across Iowa’s college campuses.

Student leaders hope to continue playing an important role as Iowa considers any changes, especially because the youth vote is uniquely consequential in the state. Ahead of the 2016 election, the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) issued its Youth Electoral Significance Index, meant to quantify how influential the student vote would be across the country. Iowa ranked number one in the presidential election, and three Iowa congressional districts ranked in the top five districts, per the index.

“We’re watching very closely what happens to this in the [state] senate and house,” Staudt said. “We hope to work with lawmakers to make sure changes happen without creating barriers to voting.”

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