Controversy Erupts in IN’s Tippecanoe County Over Validity of Purdue IDs for Voting

[Image via WBAA]

Tippecanoe County, IN’s new clerk and some community leaders are at odds after her suggestion that the County’s ongoing acceptance of Purdue University student IDs could violate the state’s new voter ID law. WBAA has more:

The Tippecanoe County Election Board and Clerk Julie Roush have met stiff opposition upon beginning a conversation about whether Purdue University ID cards will continue to be considered valid voter IDs in future elections.

At an election board meeting Friday, the chair of the county Democratic Party, an official from the League of Women Voters, the Democratic co-chair of the county’s Election Division and a Purdue official all questioned why Roush was thinking about making a change.

The issue is the lack of a printed expiration date on the cards, which Roush and others say does not comply with state law:

The discussion comes about because Purdue IDs do not currently have an expiration date printed on them. Though this has long been the case, County Clerk Julie Roush and Election Board Chairman Randy Vonderheide say they worry letting voters continue to use them – as the county has done for many years – puts election officials at risk of committing voter fraud.

County Democratic Party Chairwoman Heather Maddox took issue with that rationale.

“While I accept that maybe that’s something that we don’t want to do anymore, maybe that we need to find another solution, that’s fine,” Maddox says. “But to say that it was voter fraud or something that wasn’t talked about before and ruled on is just simply not correct.”

Melissa Gruver, a Purdue employee who helps on a project encouraging students to vote, says expiration data is built into the cards and a list of current students long been accessible by poll workers.

“Because a Purdue ID has a swipe access, it is embedded in the ID – student data is embedded in the ID,” Gruver says. “And then the public data of their enrollment in the institution is what is available to you for that cross-checking.”

And Ken Jones, the Voter Services Chair for the League of Women Voters of Greater Lafayette, read from the state voter identification statute to suggest that might be enough.

“It says ‘the document shows the name of the individual’ – seems clear,” Jones says. ‘The document shows a photograph of the individual.’ ‘The document includes…’ Why did they not say ‘shows,’ why did they say ‘includes’?”

The potential policy change has some worried about the prospect of students being disenfranchised:

County Election Division co-chair Brian Mangus, a Democrat, also sparred with Vonderheide about how the issue came up at all.

“To just, all of a sudden, make a decision by one person rather than the group, I feel like we are disenfranchising those voters in 2020,” Mangus said.

“I will suggest there is not a decision being made. We’re giving the world notice that this is being looked at,” Vonderheide responded.

Roush says that’s not how the discussion has proceeded.

“I know this wants to be…make this out into something else – that I’m running off on my own,” she says. “I tell you, if we wait for every time that we have a meeting, we’re not going to get much done.”

It’s unclear whether the local rules will change in advance of November’s municipal elections.

Partisan arguments aside, the Democrats’ Maddox concedes that the issue must be addressed – and quickly, telling the Journal Courier:

Heather Maddox … was at Friday’s meeting and dismissed the most partisan takes. Still, Maddox said she was taken aback when Roush broached a subject she thought Tippecanoe County and Purdue had worked through years ago.

“Unfortunately, it certainly looks as though the local resolution that’s been passed in years prior may not fit the ID statute as written – even though there is a system we use to check real-time expiration dates,” Maddox said. “While I may not agree with the law, it looks like that’s the way it is, and it’s what we have to work with right now.  With that said, we need a solution ASAP.”

Voter ID issues like this raise such strong emotions because they take the issue from the realm of theory (“should ID be required?”) to very specific practice (“will this ID be acceptable for this voter?”). It will be interesting what changes here: Purdue’s IDs, the County’s interpretation of the new law, or something else. Until then, the controversy and partisan takes are likely to continue. Stay tuned …

 

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