UPUA Votes to Oppose Voter ID Legislation

For the first time in weeks, the University Park Undergraduate Association actually dealt with a controversial issue.

After tabling the issue two weeks ago, the UPUA took on the voter identification bill currently awaiting the Pennsylvania State Senate, deliberating on whether they should publicly state opposition to the legislation. According to Governmental Affairs Chair Adam Boyer, if the bill were to be signed into law, all prospective voters would have to present a state or federally issued form of photo identification. Out-of-state driver’s licenses and Penn State ID cards, for instance, would not be enough.

It did include a provision that residents who were registered to vote in the state of Pennsylvania but did not have such forms of identification would qualify for a free ID card—and while Boyer admitted that was an option, he questioned the effectiveness. “Is it really going to be one that students go about? We think not.”

Although the UPUA is forbidden from lobbying, and had no plans to take their opposition to Harrisburg, Boyer saw this symbolic action as a meaningful one. “I think it’s making a statement—that was one of the goals, just going on the record as publicly opposing this,” he said.

It’s not as though voter fraud is of great concern to Pennsylvanians. According to Off-Campus Representative Mallory Reed, more individuals are killed by lightning strikes than are convicted of voter fraud each year. Andrew Lentz backed that up, citing an ACLU statistic that found no convictions in Pennsylvania history for voter fraud.

The effort seemed especially useless because the cost of implementing it would be about $4.3 million dollars, according to Boyer, who suggested that “it could be going to Penn State appropriations.”

Although the vote would eventually pass by a wide margin, 31-8, those arguing against UPUA involvement presented their case during deliberation.

Smeal College of Business Representative Elias Warren was among that group, and claimed that “responsibility” was the hallmark of our society. “I understand where this is coming from, he said. “However, people need to be responsible when they vote and this is part of that responsibility.” IFC Representative Nick Grassetti took a different approach, arguing that “it would be bad policy to go on the record against something that hasn’t even passed.”

But those on the prevailing side stressed the potential impact on students. Reed, for one, challenged her fellow representatives to “ask how this will affect the people [you] personally have been elected to represent” when casting their votes. Off-Campus Representative Brenden McNally followed in kind. “Let’s debate the actual content of the bill, and what really matters to students,” he said, “because that’s what matters.”

McNally also argued that voting rights were the most important facet of our Constitution, and stated his opposition to the bill because it infringed upon those. “Clearly, stopping the five people who are prosecuted each year for voter fraud is a small positive compared to the negative of the number of people who are going to be turned away.”

Tyler Doppelheuer perhaps summed it up best, stating succinctly, “This is not good for our students, this is not good for Penn State, and this is a barrier to voting.”

While that was the only piece of major legislation on the table, stating opposition to the voter ID bill wasn’t the only thing UPUA accomplished at Wednesday’s meeting.

Also passing after a two-week tabling was legislation allocating funding to the Student Red Cross Club for blood drives, especially the Michigan State Blood Drive Challenge. That had passed through the UPUA but was ultimately vetoed by President Bard because it violated UPUA and ASA policies against lump-sum donations. This updated bill was permissible because it called for a co-sponsorship, with the contributions directed towards advertising efforts—and according to Chairwoman of the Assembly Kelly Terefenko, “it is kosher under our budgetary policy.”

Doppelheuer resigned his Chairmanship of the Facilities Committee last week, and David Harrington was confirmed to that post Wednesday, by a near-unanimous 38-2 margin. During the confirmation hearing, Harrington expressed some of his goals, which included adding a LionCash swipe system to CATA buses—he said he was meeting with representatives from each to test the feasibility of that—and improving access to recycling both on campus and downtown.

He also stressed a willingness to collaborate with other student leaders to accomplish some of his aims. “I’m definitely willing to chip in and work with whoever wants to improve life of students on campus and off,” he said, while stressing a light time commitment outside UPUA which would allow him to dedicate himself to the position, which he claimed could be strengthened.

“I think that our role can be expanded to do the best that we can for the student body,” Harrington said. “I’ve heard historically that Facilities hasn’t always been the strongest committee, and I’d like to change that; I think that it has a lot of potential.”

Following his confirmation, UPUA passed a piece of legislation which would allow the Internal Development committee to audit UPUA budgets. The move was actually suggested by outside auditors the Student Activity Fee Board had brought in to solicit ideas to improve transparency and accountability. Because the Student Activity Fee Board will now be auditing the UPUA twice per year—another new policy—the internal audits will be helpful, according to President T.J. Bard. “If we’re auditing ourselves throughout the year, those two big audits will go much smoother.”

Before discussing anything deliberative, the UPUA welcomed Danny Shaha from the Student Conduct Office to give a special presentation. If the name of that office is unfamiliar, it ought to be—it was changed from the Office of Judicial Affairs this year, to clearly delineate the difference between the University and the actual court system.

Shaha spoke mostly about the process by which a student can be referred to the Student Conduct Office, explaining that the university has jurisdiction over both on- and off-campus incidents, and will receive information about students who have committed crimes. Most, he said, were alcohol related, and the goal is to stress “positive decision making.”

“A lot of the times they’re talking to us is because they made poor decisions,” Shaha said. For instance, rather than drinking responsibly, a student can get drunk and “end up passing out in the mulch.” Alcohol issues were the main source of referrals to his office, and roughly 1700 students were referred to the BASICS program—short for “Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students.”

At the close of the meeting, Doppelheuer announced his resignation from the UPUA, because of a direct time commitment—a Wednesday night class that was scheduled for the same time at which UPUA convened. He said he waited this long to leave the organization because he wanted to “make sure [his] committee was ready.” By now, he found they were.

“My little birds are ready to fly.”

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About the Author

Devon Edwards

Devon is a 2012 Penn State graduate and current law student at NYU. Devon joined Onward State in January of 2011, after a lengthy stay in the comment section. His likes include sabermetrics, squirrels, and longs walks on the beach, and his dislikes include spelunking, when you put your clothes in the dryer and they come out still kinda damp but also warm, and the religious right.

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