For the first time Tuesday, some LSU students will be able to flash university-issued identification cards to vote at their polling places.
The cards are the result of a new law sponsored by state Rep. Randal Gaines, D-LaPlace that requires public universities to include head shots and signatures on student ID cards so they can be used when voting in Louisiana elections.
The bill, which Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law June 10, doesn't go into effect until Jan. 1, 2019. But LSU chose to get an early start by including the new elements into student ID cards the university made available to students this fall.
Spokesman Ernest Ballard said the university has issued 1,242 of the new voter-friendly ID cards to its students.
Southern University plans to issue new student ID cards that will meet state voter ID requirements during the 2017-18 academic year, spokesman Henry Tillman said Monday. Right now, the student IDs only include a photo, Tillman said.
Charlie Bier, spokesman for University of Louisiana-Lafayette, said the school also has not yet issued voter-friendly student IDs. But he was certain the school would comply with the new law before Jan. 2019.
The push for House Bill 940 was driven by a groundswell of interest from student activist groups in the region, with Geaux Vote LSU taking the lead position in the campaign.
Valencia Richardson, founder of Geaux Vote LSU, said the initiative to pressure state lawmakers for a bill that would make student ID cards a legal form of voter identification began while she was heading student voter registration drives on campus in 2014.
"One of the big issues we found were students who felt like Louisiana was home but were out-of-state students who couldn't vote because they didn't have proper identification," said Richardson, who graduated from LSU in May. "A lot of kids don't even carry other forms of ID around except for their student ID cards."
And after researching the state's voting laws, Richardson learned the only thing LSU's student ID lacked that the state's voter ID laws required was a signature capture of the ID holder.
"This isn't extremely groundbreaking. A lot of other states already have laws where students can use their IDs," she said. "We felt this was an easy way to raise voter turnout numbers for students."
The Louisiana Secretary of State did not have polling data showing turnout numbers for college students in the past two presidential elections, but spokeswoman Meg Casper said it's "usually pretty low."
According to statewide registered voter data from the Secretary of State's Office, only 113,149 of the state's nearly 3 million registered voters in the 2012 presidential election were voters aged 18-20. In 2016, that number dropped to a little more than 91,000 voters, according to the Secretary of State data.
Gaines is hoping the new law will increase voter turnout for college students in the state — part of the reason he agreed to author the bill.
He sees college students as engaged future leaders with passionate opinions about current events. Making it easier from them to participate in this country's political process helps proves to them how much elected officials like him value their perspective, he said.
"I've always worked hard to get younger voters involved in the voting process," he said. "Based on the research I've done, the younger they get involved in the process, the more likely they become chronic voters."