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Ky. Senate bill rejecting student IDs as valid voter identification passes committee

Republican state Sen. Adrienne Southworth of Lawrenceburg discusses her legislation to drop student ID's as a valid form of voter identification at a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday Jan. 24, 2024.
Joe Sonka
Republican state Sen. Adrienne Southworth of Lawrenceburg discusses her legislation to drop student ID's as a valid form of voter identification at a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday Jan. 24, 2024.

A bill advanced Wednesday in a Kentucky Senate committee that would no longer allow college students to use their student ID as a valid identification to vote in state elections.

While every GOP member of the committee voted for Senate Bill 80, Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams warned the bill could risk Kentucky’s voter ID law being struck down in court, while alienating younger voters.

Republican state Sen. Adrienne Southworth of Lawrenceburg is the lead sponsor of SB 80, which would amend Kentucky’s voter photo ID law that was passed in 2020, at Adams’ urging.

Southworth told committee members her bill was needed to preserve election integrity. She said college student identification cards are not government-issued like the other acceptable forms of ID under the law.

She added these IDs are also more suspect because many college students in Kentucky reside and are registered to vote in other states.

“It's really getting weird when you have competing residence versus where you are living,” Southworth said. “The student ID is absolutely not really appropriate for a primary source of ID.”

Under the current law, if a voter does not have one of the accepted kinds of primary photo ID, they may sign a form affirming they are an eligible voter and use a secondary ID to vote. Southworth’s bill would also strike credit cards from being one of the valid secondary forms of identification.

In the limited debate on SB 80, Republican Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown said he approved of the change.

“I've always thought that these other forms of ID shouldn't be acceptable at the polls,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong of Louisville asked Southworth if Adams or the State Board of Elections were in favor of this change, adding “I'm a little worried this is a solution in search of a problem.”

Southworth answered by saying it’s the role of the legislature to write laws, and the role of the executive branch to execute those laws.

“I also am huge on the separation of powers,” Southworth said. “So we decide what we want. And it's their job to do this. It's not their job to tell us how we need to do our job.”

Adams’ spokeswoman Michon Lindstrom said if SB 80 passes it may undo the secretary’s effort to defend Kentucky’s photo ID law against court challenges.

“As a Republican, Secretary Adams believes his party should be careful not to gratuitously alienate young voters like college students by taking away their ability to use college Photo IDs in the absence of any evidence they have been used fraudulently,” Lindstrom said.

After the committee vote, Southworth said she was concerned that it was easier to make fake student IDs than government-issued identification. Asked if there has even been a documented case in Kentucky or other states of a fake student ID being used to vote, Southworth said it was “impossible” to get such information.

“We don't write laws because stuff's already happened,” Southworth said. “We write laws trying to prevent problems from happening. And so, as you see very possible loopholes, you might as well close them before mass fraud takes off.”

Lindstrom criticized Southworth ahead of the hearing, referencing past statements she has made baselessly alleging election fraud.

“The General Assembly should not enact any election law sponsored by a legislator who has falsely accused our county clerks of rigging elections,” Lindstrom stated.

This was a reference to Southworth’s suggestion in 2022 that local officials stuffed the ballot box in order to rig an election recount. She made the comment at a conference run by Mike Lindell, a discredited election fraud conspiracy theorist who is being sued for defamation by Dominion and Smartmatic over debunked claims the two voting-tech companies conspired to rig the 2020 election so former President Donald Trump would lose.

Southworth has had trouble advancing legislation involving voting machines in recent sessions, receiving criticism from her Republican colleagues — including Thayer — for making what they called baseless claims.

Following the committee vote, Adams said the changes would not be likely to disenfranchise a lot of people, but warned that similar provisions have been struck down or delayed the implementation of voter ID laws in other states.

“What I have as a goal is a workable law, that's reasonable, that's humane, lets people vote and doesn't get struck down — and actually is on the books still,” Adams said.

Adams added that it would not be wise for Republicans to antagonize young voters, especially when there is no evidence of voter fraud involving student IDs.

“If you look at how poorly our party did in the last election at the top of the ticket with young voters, the last thing that we should do is pick a fight with young voters like college students, and go out of our way to pull out the rug from them and not let them use IDs that have been proved totally effective for establishing their identity,” he said.

A majority of states now have voter ID laws with most permitting student IDs as valid. Ohio and Tennessee do not count student IDs, while Indiana only allows student IDs from public universities and colleges.

Idaho amended its voter ID law last year to remove student ID cards as valid. A lawsuit challenging that change is now before the state supreme court.

This story has been updated.

Joe is the enterprise statehouse reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email Joe at jsonka@lpm.org.

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