College photo IDs would no longer suffice to vote in Kentucky under bill moving in Senate

Republican secretary of state warns of possible court challenges, says no evidence of fraud in use of college IDs

By: - January 24, 2024 2:27 pm

Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, speaks to reporters after her bill to remove university-issued IDs from accepted primary voter identification forms is heard in a committee. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

FRANKFORT — A bill that would block Kentuckians from using university-issued IDs to vote has passed out of a Senate committee, prompting the Republican secretary of state to warn members of his party to “be careful not to gratuitously alienate young voters.” 

Identification cards issued by universities and colleges to students and employees would no longer be accepted as proof of identification at the polls under Senate Bill 80. The Senate State and Local Government Committee gave the bill favorable passage Wednesday in a vote of 9-2. 

The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, told the committee such IDs are issued with less personal information than government-issued IDs used for primary voter identification, such as driver’s licenses. She said university IDs are “not enough to compare, for any purposes really.”

“People that have these government issued documents have had to do things like swear an oath, they have ethics codes or they’re employees — a lot of kind of surrounding stuff that goes around where we assume these people may be telling us the truth so we’re going to accept it on its face,” Southworth said. 

When asked by reporters if there has been a specific issue with college IDs in Kentucky used in voter fraud cases, the senator said she did not have access to elections investigations.

Southworth’s bill also removes credit and debit cards from a list of accepted forms of identification if a voter lacks a driver’s license or other government-issued ID. 

The General Assembly approved Kentucky’s current voter ID law, requiring voters to present photo IDs, during the 2020 legislative session. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear issued a futile veto of the legislation. That bill had the support of Secretary of State Michael Adams, who often hails the motto: “Make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

However, a spokesperson for Adams warned Republicans in a statement after Wednesday’s meeting that they should be wary of removing university-issued IDs from law. 

“Our Photo ID to Vote law was carefully drafted to ensure success against court challenges, and Secretary Adams was successful in three such challenges,” said Michon Lindstrom, Adams’ director of communications. “We are concerned that this bill could get the Photo ID law struck down. Also, as a Republican, Secretary Adams believes his party should be careful not to gratuitously alienate young voters like college students by taking away their ability to use college Photo IDs in the absence of any evidence they have been used fraudulently.”

Damon Thayer ( LRC Public Information)

When asked what conversations she’s had with Kentucky elections officials, Southworth told the committee that the legislative branch makes the laws, and as for the executive branch, “it’s not their job to tell us how we need to do our job.” 

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, expressed ardent support for Southworth’s bill, saying she is “trying to improve” the 2020 law. Thayer added that law also allows those without a photo ID to receive one for free at a local county clerk’s office.

“​​I’ve always thought that these other forms of ID shouldn’t be acceptable at the polls. I think it’s a good bill, very straightforward,” he said.

Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, of Louisville, was one of the two Democrats on the committee to vote against the bill and called it a “solution in search of a problem.” 

“I haven’t heard any evidence that these forms of ID are more likely to be subject to fraud,” she said. “I worry that by taking away a source of identification most often used by some of our more vulnerable residents — who don’t have access to some of these government-issued IDs that require folks to gather documents, they can be expensive, both in terms of time and money — that we’re actually making it more difficult for folks to vote.” 

Southworth has filed several bills aimed at changing elections laws this session, including a proposal to require voting systems to only contain parts manufactured in the U.S. and another to require a “risk-limiting audit” be conducted after polls close to certify an election.

Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D-Louisville, questions a bill regarding voter ID law in a committee meeting. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

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McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.