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Students Lose Challenge to Tennesee Voter ID Law

NASHVILLE (CN) - A federal judge threw out a challenge to Tennessee's voter ID law, finding that out-of-state college students didn't prove an unfair burden on their right to vote.

The Nashville Student Organizing Committee and nine students sued Tennessee election officials in March, arguing the state's voter ID law "intentionally discriminates against out-of-state college and university students, and has the purpose and effect of denying and abridging the right to vote on account of age" because it excludes student IDs and out-of-state IDs at the polls.

"Out-of-state students with other states' driver's licenses or ID cards cannot readily comply with the voter ID law and must either forego voting, vote absentee in their prior state, or undergo the arduous process of applying for an identification license at a driver service center," the lawsuit claimed. "The voter ID law clearly favors in-state student voters over out-of-state student voters."

The state's voter ID law passed in 2011, according to the complaint. The state senate initially allowed some student IDs as accepted forms of voter ID, but the state house amended the bill to exclude them. Attempts to add student IDs to the voter ID list failed in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, the students say.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger dismissed the case, finding that the Volunteer State's voter ID law "does not impose any unique burden on students."

"Under the Tennessee voter ID law, everyone is required to obtain some form of acceptable photo identification in order to vote. Students, like everyone else, can select among a state-issued driver license, a United States passport, or the free, state-issued non-driver identification card," she wrote. "The Tennessee voter ID law merely does not allow students to use the student identification cards they already have. Admittedly, allowing students to use these cards would make it easier for them to vote, but it does not automatically follow that not allowing them to use their student identification cards imposes a severe burden or otherwise abridges their right to vote." (Emphasis in original.)

The judge also said Tennessee's rationale for excluding student IDs - concern over fake student ID cards, voter fraud, and the different relationship the state has with college faculty compared to students - is a legitimate basis to differentiate between faculty and student IDs.

"The court need not assess the veracity of these statements nor their role in motivating any or all of the individual legislators who enacted the Tennessee voter ID law," Trauger wrote. "So long as the court is satisfied that this is a rational justification, which it is, the plaintiffs cannot meet their burden."

The judge dismissed the students' claims with prejudice and denied pending motions to quash as moot.

Douglas Johnston, Jr., attorney for the student group, did not immediately respond to a request for comment emailed Tuesday.

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