For Monique Mercado and Hugueson Noel, voting just got a little easier thanks to Community College of Philadelphia, which has redesigned its college ID to include an expiration date so students can use it to cast their ballots on Nov. 6.
Both students, freshmen at Community College, will be casting their ballots for the first time this year, and both are excited to exercise their civic duty.
“I know if I don’t vote, I can’t complain,” said Mercado, who added that her political awareness has risen since entering college. The 18-year-old from Olney has plans to get a law degree from Temple University and knows she’ll be relying on student loans other forms of aid to achieve her goals. Politicians at both the state and federal level have been eyeing aid programs as a place to cut when struggling to balance budgets.
It concerns Mercado.
“The fact that I plan on being a student for the next six or seven years, it’s going to be kind of hard for me if they take it away,” she said. “How am I going to get through law school? How am I going to get through grad school?”
Noel, also 18 and from Olney, plans on attending law school, too. After CCP, he hopes to move on to Morehouse University of NYU. His concerns are broader.
“First, we have a Black president,” he said. “Secondly, I feel as though I have to do my job and get out there and support my people. This is some serious stuff.”
He ticked off a list of concerns: the economy, a government paralyzed by partisanship, and a faltering education system.
“We young people have to stand up and go out to vote to make our point,” he said. “We are young, and we have a choice.”
Neither of the two had a photo ID prior to their college ID — no driver’s license, no state identity card, no passport.
Without some form of photo identity card approved by the state, neither would be able to vote under a state law passed in March. So, this week they turned in their old IDs for new ones with an expiration date two years from now.
They each viewed the new law as a throwback, an effort to disenfranchise them.
“It’s like back in the day … when they used to give African Americans tests so they could vote. They gave them all of these roadblocks,” Mercado said.
“Knowing that they couldn’t read or write,” added Noel. “History does repeat itself.”
“So, I feel that’s what they’re doing all over again, stepping back in history,” Mercado said.
Indeed critics charge that the law, which is now being challenged in court, is designed to disenfranchise the young, the old, poor and minority voters.
Noel registered as an independent, Mercado as a Democrat.
Most of their friends are not going to the polls.
“A lot of my friends aren’t voting,” Mercado said. “They say ‘Oh, it don’t matter’ or they learn about the electoral college and say ‘Our vote doesn’t really matter,’” she said. “I try to tell them it really does, but when someone has their mind made up, it’s hard to change it.”
About 165 students have so far taken advantage of the opportunity to switch their IDs since a Rock the Vote event on campus Tuesday.
But, the number of students with ID that can be used for voting is far greater, said college president Stephen M. Curtis, estimating that between 5,000 and 6,000 new students got one. Starting this semester, all student IDs will have an expiration date and returning students have the option of trading in their old ID for a new one with an expiration date at no charge.
“It was a pretty easy decision,” said Curtis. “We encourage our students to get involved, all the time.”
He added that the college has no plans to issue IDs to non-students. Community College of Allegheny County has, at the behest of county commissioners, and is offering IDs to all county residents.
“We’re really focused on our students,” Curtis said.
Officials with student government said they intend to keep encouraging students to register and get the ID they need to vote.
“We’re not finished,” said Charles Phy, president of the Student Government Association. “We know we don’t have 100 percent — but we’ll try and get as close to 100 percent as we can.”