Most HBCU students, other private school attendees excluded from using school IDs to vote in Georgia

Georgia's 2006 law could impact the outcome of any close Peach State race: Seven out of 10 of its HBCUs are private institutions.

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A Georgia voting law passed in 2006 prohibited most students attending its historically Black colleges and universities or attendees of non-state schools from using their campus identification cards.

According to NBC News, the 2006 law has been amended numerous times, and a 2021 bill, SB 202, brought more restrictions on voting. But neither the amendments nor SB 202 changed the identification requirements set out in 2006: A voter must present a driver’s license or another form of identification from Georgia or another state or a voter identification card to cast a ballot there. A passport or a tribal, military, government or state employee identification card is also acceptable, as is any ID issued by an entity of the state of Georgia. Private colleges and universities do not fall into that last category, though public ones do.

Seven out of 10 of the Peach State’s HBCUs are private institutions, and those private HBCUs enroll at least 10,000 students.

Georgia voting laws
A woman leads a chant during an October rally advocating for early voting and voting rights in Decatur, Georgia. Most students attending HBCUs and other private institutions across the state are prohibited, by a 2006 law, from using their student ID cards to vote. (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“Students in general often have a more difficult time accessing the ballot box because of all sorts of things. For example, their addresses often change. Voters of color face barriers to the ballot box as well,” said Rahul Garabadu, a senior voting rights attorney at the Georgia American Civil Liberties Union. “So when you take that overlap, you’re making it even harder for a subset of voters for whom it’s already quite difficult to cast a ballot,” he continued, according to NBC.

Vote Riders, a nonprofit group representing voters in states with strict voter ID restrictions, estimates there are 157,000 registered voters in Georgia without an ID number on file with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Experts acknowledge that the proportion of Georgia voters affected by the ID law is relatively small. However, they also stress that the law could impact the outcome of any close race, and there have been close elections in the state over the previous two election cycles.

Lauren Nicks, a senior at Spelman College in Atlanta, voted in her native New York during the midterm elections in November.

She did not cast a ballot for her preferred U.S. Senate candidate, incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, in either the general election or the runoff because the law prohibits students from private colleges and universities in the state from using their school ID as identification to vote in Georgia.

Nicks didn’t know she could have used a different form of identification to cast her ballot, such as her passport or New York state ID card. Since she didn’t want to take the chance of being denied the opportunity to cast a ballot, she stayed registered in New York and used an absentee ballot.

According to experts, the election law continues to perplex voters, particularly college students or other people who already encounter obstacles. Many choose to cast their ballots in another location or not at all, and as a result, it disproportionately affects student voters of color.

While Montgomery, Alabama, native Aylon Gipson, 20, a junior at Morehouse College in Atlanta, got his driver’s license at 16, he called the provision a problem, seeing as how many students don’t have a license or a passport.

“I’ve seen it firsthand,” said Gipson, NBC reported. “You hear people saying they want to vote, want to be involved, but they don’t know if they are even allowed to vote. It discourages them from showing up.”

Defenders of the provision said government-issued identifications, including those issued by state universities, remained more reliable than any other form of ID. They also claimed that obtaining other appropriate forms of identification for students who wish to vote in Georgia would not be difficult.

“Government identification is, by definition, issued by GOVERNMENT agencies,” Mike Hassinger of the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office told NBC. “Photo identification for voting is a longstanding legal requirement passed by the Georgia legislature and upheld by the courts, and Georgia offers an ID card at every County Registrar’s office or Department of Driver Services office free of charge.”

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