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Despite ‘mass fraud’ claims, data shows few Kentuckians use student IDs to vote

Voters check in to cast their ballots at Fairdale High School.
J. Tyler Franklin
/
LPM
Voters check in to cast their ballots at Fairdale High School in Louisville, 2021.

Student IDs are rarely used to vote and have no verifiable connection to election fraud, but a bill to exclude them as a primary voter ID has advanced through the Kentucky Senate.

A bill to strike college student IDs from Kentucky’s voter ID law over perceived concerns about “mass fraud” has cleared the state Senate, though voting statistics show few use this form of identification and there have been no documented fraud complaints involving them.

Data from the State Board of Elections shows that in 109 of Kentucky’s 120 counties, 99.3% of the 1.1 million voters who cast an in-person ballot in the 2023 general election used a driver’s license to identify themselves, according to a Kentucky Public Radio analysis.

A tiny fraction of those voters — just 354 — used a college student ID card.

Senate Bill 80 cleared that chamber with a party-line 27-7 vote last month. Republican Sen. Adrienne Southworth of Lawrenceburg argued her bill was needed to preserve the integrity of Kentucky elections because college IDs were not state-issued and could be easily faked.

Southworth said it was impossible to know if there were any documented cases nationally or within the state of a voter using a fake college ID, but a spokesman for Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman said his office has not received a single complaint of that kind since the state’s new voter ID law was passed in 2020.

Kentucky’s voter ID law currently includes student IDs as a primary form of photo identification to vote, along with state-issued driver’s licenses or IDs and federally-issued passports or military IDs.

Voters can still cast a ballot if they have a secondary form of ID, so long as they sign an affidavit affirming their identity and indicating the specific “impediment” that prevented them from procuring a primary form of identification, under penalty of perjury.

Valid secondary forms of IDs under current law include cards with voters’ name and photo — such as student IDs — Social Security cards, county-issued IDs approved by the state board, state-issued food stamps or benefits cards, and credit or debit cards.

Credit and debit cards would also be eliminated as a valid secondary ID under SB 80. In the counties where data is available, just 267 voters used such cards as their secondary ID in last year’s general election, along with signing the affidavit.

In Fayette and Jefferson counties — Kentucky’s two most populous counties that also have colleges with its largest enrollment — 89 and 81 voters used their student IDs to check in at the polls, respectively.

When SB 80 cleared a Senate committee last month, Southworth said that while she knew of no documented cases of voter fraud involving student IDs, she has had kids personally brag to her about how fast they can create fake credit cards and student IDs that look authentic. She also expressed concern that college students may be registered to vote in two places.

“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.”

Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams expressed his opposition to SB 80 after it passed the committee, saying it would increase the chances that the entire voter ID law will be struck down in the courts if it passed.

“We drew this very carefully in 2020 to make sure that we had the sort of mechanisms in it that have led to our law being upheld in court challenges,” Adams said. “Other states have a law a lot more like what you saw today. And those states have had their laws struck down.”

Joshua Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky who focuses on election law and voting rights, said that while he thought the voter ID bill that passed into law in 2020 was unnecessary, it did include several bipartisan concessions from its original version that made it less severe.

“It's pretty absurd a few years later, when the law has actually worked well and really hasn't disenfranchised very many people… to then start taking apart that law piecemeal,” Douglas said.

Noting the lack of any evidence of fraud involving student IDs, Douglas said if SB 80 is passed it would needlessly create additional hurdles for young voters.

“Why are we going to make people jump through these additional hoops for no good reason?” Douglas asked. “It takes extra time, it takes the poll worker time, it can increase lines as others are waiting to check in while the poll worker is handling this situation, all for no reason whatsoever.”

While saying the bill may only disenfranchise a small number of students, Adams added that it would still be unwise for fellow Republicans to unnecessarily antagonize young voters.

“If you're making it harder for people to vote, and there's not a legitimate reason, that's concerning,” Adams said.

Though it quickly passed the Senate, SB 80 has not yet been assigned a committee in the House or received a hearing.

A majority of states now have voter ID laws, with most of those allowing student IDs as a form of identification. Ohio and Tennessee do not accept student IDs as valid, while Indiana only allows student IDs from public universities and colleges.

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