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Young Voters Face Barrier to the Poll

Young Voters Face Barrier to the Poll

The “youth vote” is an elusive subgroup of the electorate. Candidates rarely connect well with college students, recent graduates, or young voters, and as a result, these voters have historically turned out in relatively low numbers at the polls. The 2008 election, however, could have been a turning point: An estimated 23 million young Americans under 30 voted in that election, an increase by at least 3.4 million over 2004.

But with an increasing number of new voter ID requirements in states across the country, the trend of more young people at the polls might be reversed in the 2012 election. Last Wednesday, Pennsylvania became the 16th state in the nation to pass a voter ID law. The Pennsylvania law, like similar voter ID measures across the country, requires voters to present government-issued photo identification at the polls and will be in effect in time for the November presidential election.

Proponents of these laws argue they are necessary to prevent fraud, but the notion of widespread voter fraud occurring in state or federal elections is a myth. Instead, in attempting to fix a problem that does not exist, voter ID laws and similar restrictions discourage or block eligible citizens, especially poor, elderly, and minority voters, from casting their votes.

Young voters and college students are also one of these disproportionately impacted groups. In some states, students already face hurdles when they try to register because P.O. boxes and dorm address are not valid and their driver’s licenses are issued by the state where they grew up, which is not necessarily the state in which they attend college. In other states, new voter ID requirements restrict them from using their school ID to vote.

Under Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, only school IDs that have expiration dates printed on them will be valid at the polls. While the University of Pennsylvania’s PennCard will count, IDs from schools such as Drexel University, Penn State, Point Park universities and LaSalle College will not. Before Wisconsin’s voter ID law was struck down by a federal court last week, many of the state universities’ IDs would not have qualified at the polls and would have required schools to shell out as much as $100,000 each to offer students free voter IDs.

Speaker of the New Hampshire State House Bill O’Brien told an audience earlier this year that students are “foolish” and tend to “vote with their feelings,” which is why he supports a measure to prohibit students from voting from their college addresses and end same-day registration. What kind of future do we wish for our children who are eligible to vote when we dismiss their opinions and beliefs as “foolish”? By enacting voter ID laws that make it more difficult for young people to vote, states discourage tomorrow’s leaders from participating in public life and engaging with important political decisions.

Will you have to show an ID at the polls in November? Is your state considering such a law? Speak up and let your officials know that you oppose voter ID and other voter suppression measures in your state. Use this map for more information on the status of your states’ voting laws.

To learn more about how your congregation or organization can promote civic engagement this election season, download your copy of the RAC’s Get Out the Vote 2012 guide now at www.rac.org/vote.

Image courtesy of University of California-Irvine.

Published: 3/27/2012

Categories: Social Justice
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