Keeping Students From the Polls
Published: December 26, 2011
Next fall, thousands of students on college campuses will attempt to register to vote and be turned away. Sorry, they will hear, you have an out-of-state driver’s license. Sorry, your college ID is not valid here. Sorry, we found out that you paid out-of-state tuition, so even though you do have a state driver’s license, you still can’t vote.
Political leaders should be encouraging young adults to participate in civic life, but many Republican state lawmakers are doing everything they can instead to prevent students from voting in the 2012 presidential election. Some have openly acknowledged doing so because students tend to be liberal.
Seven states have already passed strict laws requiring a government-issued ID (like a driver’s license or a passport) to vote, which many students don’t have, and 27 others are considering such measures. Many of those laws have been interpreted as prohibiting out-of-state driver’s licenses from being used for voting.
It’s all part of a widespread Republican effort to restrict the voting rights of demographic groups that tend to vote Democratic. Blacks, Hispanics, the poor and the young, who are more likely to support President Obama, are disproportionately represented in the 21 million people without government IDs. On Friday, the Justice Department, finally taking action against these abuses, blocked the new voter ID law in South Carolina.
Republicans usually don’t want to acknowledge that their purpose is to turn away voters, especially when race is involved, so they invented an explanation, claiming that stricter ID laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud. In fact, there is almost no voter fraud in America to prevent.
William O’Brien, the speaker of the New Hampshire State House, told a Tea Party group earlier this year that students are “foolish” and tend to “vote their feelings” because they lack life experience. “Voting as a liberal,” he said, “that’s what kids do.” And that’s why, he said, he supported measures to prohibit students from voting from their college addresses and to end same-day registration. New Hampshire Republicans even tried to pass a bill that would have kept students who previously lived elsewhere from voting in the state; fortunately, the measure failed, as did the others Mr. O’Brien favored.
Many students have taken advantage of Election Day registration laws, which is one reason Maine Republicans passed a law eliminating the practice. Voters restored it last month, but Republican lawmakers there are already trying new ways to restrict voting. The secretary of state said he was investigating students who are registered to vote in the state but pay out-of-state tuition.
Wisconsin once made it easy for students to vote, making it one of the leading states in turnout of younger voters in 2004 and 2008. When Republicans swept into power there last year, they undid all of that, imposing requirements that invalidated the use of virtually all college ID cards in voter registration. Colleges are scrambling to change their cards to add signatures and expiration dates, but it’s not clear whether the state will let them.
Imposing these restrictions to win an election will embitter a generation of students in its first encounter with the machinery of democracy.
~ Editorial by Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor for The New York Times.