As Katie Hobbs prepared to take over as Arizona’s newly elected secretary of state, one question was repeatedly asked: Can a student ID be used to vote?
The short, easy answer was “no.”
But the longer, more complicated answer is “yes, but if.”
A footnote in the draft of a new Elections Procedures Manual, a handbook for running elections in Arizona, now states that IDs issued by a public college, university or other public educational institutions are technically “government-issued” IDs.
Public schools have always been government institutions, so it makes sense that the IDs the schools issue fit the description in the manual as “government-issued,” according to Hobbs’ election director, Bo Dul.
That clarity is important, Dul said, because a valid, government-issued ID is one of the few forms of identification that can be used as a voter’s sole ID when voting.
But that doesn’t mean student IDs alone can be used to verify a voter’s identity. Those identifications would still need to meet other requirements in Arizona law – namely the inclusion of three elements: the student’s name, photo, and residential address.
It’s the address that’s missing from most student identification cards.
“The question that we kept getting was, is a student ID valid for voting? So we just wanted to clarify that our interpretation is that it could be – it just needs to have all the same elements as any other government-issued ID,” Dul said.
Perhaps the footnote “can be an impetus to the universities to start including addresses so it can be used for voting purposes,” Dul said.
Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, said he requested the clarifying language, along with the Arizona chapter of All Voting Is Local, a national voting rights organization. If approved, the manual would “provide clarity to students on which forms of ID work for voting,” Edman said.
It might also empower students to advocate their administrations to start printing addresses on student IDs, he added.
“Even for now at least, it’s a signal to students that your ID can get you at least part of the way there, if you’ve got a bank statement or something else with your address you can pair,” Edman said.
In a statement, Arizona State University officials said they’ve already been exploring the issue, but raised some concerns. Many ASU student IDs are tied to bank accounts, and adding an address could put the security of those accounts in jeopardy. The university is also concerned about its own costs – given how often students move, requests for IDs to be repeatedly updated would add to printing expenses.
A spokeswoman with Northern Arizona University echoed concerns about the costs, not only as students move and need to change their address, but also for encrypting student data and meeting federal ID requirements.
Officials from all three public universities stated they strongly encourage civic engagement. Per the ASU statement, “we continue to explore possible solutions and will of course continue our efforts to work with student organizations to provide eligible students with opportunities to register to vote,” the statement added.
If public universities such as ASU and community colleges start printing addresses on student IDs, it’d make it easier for college students to vote in a state where some legislators have sought to make the process more difficult.
In 2017, Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, pushed legislation to require college students to use their permanent address to register to vote, arguing that students “unfairly influence” local elections in the college communities they reside in only part of the year.
Specifically, Thorpe wanted to bar campus addresses from being used to register to vote in Arizona. The measure failed to gain any traction.
The updated Elections Procedures Manual is still just a draft. After accepting public comments for much of September, the secretary of state has until October 1 to submit a final draft to the attorney general and the governor, who have the authority to approve or reject it.
Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include statements from Arizona’s other state universities.