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Idaho's top judges question lawsuit about voting with student IDs

A person sits behind a wooden desk with a large monitor on it.
Sarah A. Miller
Idaho Statesman
Idaho Supreme Court Justice Gregory Moeller as seen in this file photo from 2022. He and other justices questioned a suit aiming to overturn a new state law barring the use of student IDs at polling places

The use of student ID cards at the polls may have another chance at life in Idaho, though some of the state’s top justices openly questioned a lawsuit aimed at reviving them.

Two voter advocacy groups argued before the state supreme court Monday afternoon to overturn recent laws barring their use during elections.

Babe Vote and the League of Women Voters of Idaho immediately filed suit after the bills were signed this past March.

“The right to vote is far too important to allow the legislature to restrict it, so long as there is any conceivable basis for the legislation,” said their lawyer, Matthew Gordon, on Monday. “That would give the legislature nearly carte blanche to target whatever group was out of favor at the moment.”

It took less than two minutes into Gordon’s arguments before Justice Gregory Moeller to question Gordon during the hearing.

“How do we distinguish between an [insurmountable barrier] or like something even more nefarious like a poll tax and something that’s just merely inconvenient?” Moeller asked.

Gordon replied with a scenario about a person in a nursing home who is unable to drive to the DMV to either renew their driver’s license, or to obtain a free, state-issued ID in order to validate their identity while voting.

“That is certainly more than an inconvenience,” Gordon said.

“The facts in this case, I don’t think, are near as egregious as you’re suggesting they are,” Moeller said.

State legislators banned the use of student ID cards as an acceptable form of identification at polling places because they’re not uniform, nor do they always include information like a person’s age or address.

Both organizations run voter registration events throughout the year – including those focused on young people and students, who they said are being unconstitutionally discriminated against by these laws.

In October, Fourth District Court Judge Samuel Hoagland dismissed the case, writing in his opinion, “There is a legitimate government purpose in uniformity of the voting process and voter registration.”

Instead of fundamentally restricting a person’s right to vote, Hoagland said outlawing student IDs is simply a condition placed on the practice.

That’s partially because a free, state-issued identification card is available as a substitute for voters who don’t have a driver’s license.

“While a certain classification —age— appears to be more affected than other classifications, the condition is not immediately invalidated nor does the condition make it impossible – let alone overly burdensome – for those in the classification to continue to exercise the right of suffrage,” he wrote.

Interim Solicitor General Josh Turner put it this way on Monday: the laws regulate how someone can vote.

“They are not regulating who can vote,” Turner said.

The Idaho Supreme Court will issue its decision at a later date.

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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