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UISG should focus on fostering voter interest, not IDs

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 13, 2012 6:30 AM

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Last week, the University of Iowa Student Government passed a resolution stating its stance against a bill in the Iowa Legislature on voter identification. The bill would require identification that includes the name of the individual, a photo, and an expiration date at the time of voting.

UISG leaders are concerned that the bill might make the UI's current student IDs void for the purposes of voting because they have no expiration date. If this were to be the case, the UI may have to reprint thousands of ID cards, possibly costing thousands of dollars.

UISG Sen. Greg Branson, who introduced the resolution Feb. 7, told The Daily Iowan, "We don't want to suppress voter turnout, especially with the students."

While there is a chance that the UISG is correct in its foresight, there is a much smaller chance that this will affect student-voter turnout on Election Day. The UISG should focus its efforts on getting students to the polls and making it simpler to do so.

Student turnout on the UI campus in November 2011 was disastrous. Only 32 out of 3,003 registered voters — 1.07 percent — went to the polls at the Main Library, the largest precinct in Iowa City. The Johnson County Courthouse received only 54 votes and Quadrangle Residence Hall 57 votes.

There is obviously a trend here. Even in an election in which Raj Patel — a one-time UI student and an opponent of the 21-ordinance — was running for a City Council seat, complacency and laziness trumped any motivation students may have had.

It takes a lot of work to get young voters to the polls, say groups like Rock the Vote and CIRCLE. Rock the Vote has earned its reputation through hosting concerts with popular musicians as a way to congregate young people and promote voting. Its statistics claim that the Millennium Generation makes up nearly 25 percent of the electorate, which is more than enough to swing an election.

Abby Kiesa, the youth coordinator and a researcher for CIRCLE, knows this very well. "Without motivating young people to become informed and to get them to vote, you're always at square one," she said.

Students must be informed about the steps in the voting system. Most likely cannot even tell you in what month general and midterm elections are held, not to mention where to vote and how to do it.

"Young people must be made aware of when the election is and how to vote, and there are various ways of doing that," Keisa said.

Registration drives at the residence halls and dining halls could be held as a way to inform students and get them prepared to vote. Also, social media provide a free and highly effective way to disseminate critical information. It goes without saying that nearly every student at the UI is social-media savvy and that it is the best way to propagate information.

Convenience is also paramount for a large turnout.

"It seems like it would be obvious to make voting as convenient as possible while still deterring fraud," Keisa said. "But that is generally not the case across the country."

The polling place for Mayflower is at Shimek Elementary, a 15-minute walk. It rained this past November on Election Day, which could have deterred some of the more than 1,000 residents from trudging their way to the school. The UISG ought to work with Johnson County officials and make more residence halls voting sites.

(This doesn't even touch on the fact that the UISG may be overreacting in the assessment of the Iowa Legislature's bill. An in- or out-of-state driver's license or government-provided ID that meets the new requirements would be considered valid under the bill's provisions. A non-operator ID from the Iowa Department of Motor Vehicles could also be used — and it's only $5, far within the reach of perhaps every Iowan.)

If the UISG wishes to increase student-voter turnout, its efforts would be better focused on educating its constituents and encouraging conversation.


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