The percentage of college students who cast votes in 2018 was more than double that of 2014, the last mid-term election prior to 2018. Why? Two major reasons: school shootings and the environment. The February 2018 shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was a turning point for young people around the nation. They were tired of seeing their friends die needlessly because of reckless, largely unregulated gun laws, or rather lack of laws. A few activists from Parkland took the lead and motivated many more.
And then came a young girl in Sweden, Greta Thunberg, and she gained a voice that would be heard ‘round the world, and what she said with that voice was that we, the adults around the globe, have done a lousy job taking care of our planet, and that we have jeopardized hers and other young people’s futures and … she wasn’t going to take it lying down! And her voice carried, touching the hearts and minds of young people in every nation, including the U.S.
Because of these two things, young people today are far more invested in the political process, far more aware of what is being done, who will do things to improve the situation, and they are, most importantly, voting in numbers never seen before among their age group. My hat is off to all those who are using their voice and their vote to do what we oldsters should have been doing for decades now. But …
Not everybody is pleased by this new wave of political enthusiasm among the youth of the country. Young people, concerned about the proliferation of guns and the destruction of the environment, are typically more likely to vote for a democratic candidate, which has thrown the Republican Party into a tailspin and led them to find new ways to disenfranchise the young voters.
The Texas Legislature has outlawed polling places that do not stay open for the entire 12-day early-voting period. Many college campuses set up temporary early-voting sites for the convenience of the students. However, they have neither the funding nor the need to keep those sites open for the entire 12 days, and therefore will not be allowed to have them this year. Many students who live in campus housing do not have their own transportation and may well find it difficult to get to the polls in order to vote. In Texas, this will affect nine of the eleven campuses of Austin Community College, as well as six campus polling places at colleges in Fort Worth, two in Brownsville, on the Mexico border, and other polling places at schools statewide.
It isn’t only Texas … Republican politicians around the country are throwing up roadblocks between students and voting booths. In New Hampshire, a Republican-backed law took effect this fall requiring newly registered voters who drive to establish “domicile” in the state by securing New Hampshire driver’s licenses and auto registrations, which can cost hundreds of dollars annually. Six in 10 New Hampshire college students come from outside the state, a rate among the nation’s highest. As early as 2011, the state’s Republican House speaker at the time, William O’Brien, promised to clamp down on unrestricted voting by students, calling them “kids voting liberal, voting their feelings, with no life experience.” Say WHAT???
Florida’s State Legislature reinstated a 2014 law that the Courts struck down at the time, outlawing early voting sites at state universities, with an additional caveat that all early voting sites must offer “sufficient non-permitted parking” – something that is in short supply at most universities.
North Carolina Republicans enacted a voter ID law last year that recognized student identification cards as valid — but its requirements proved so cumbersome that major state universities were unable to comply. A later revision relaxed the rules, but much confusion remains, and fewer than half the state’s 180-plus accredited schools have sought to certify their IDs for voting.
Wisconsin Republicans also have imposed tough restrictions on using student IDs for voting purposes. The state requires poll workers to check signatures only on student IDs, although some schools issuing modern IDs that serve as debit cards and dorm room keys have removed signatures, which they consider a security risk. The law also requires that IDs used for voting expire within two years, while most college ID cards have four-year expiration dates. And even students with acceptable IDs must show proof of enrollment before being allowed to vote.
Tennessee does not recognize student ID cards as valid for voting, and legislators have removed out-of-state driver’s licenses from the list of valid identifications. Tennessee ranks 50th in voter turnout among the states and the District of Columbia. Only Texas’ turnout is worse.
In almost all of these cases, the excuse given for the tougher restrictions is that they are trying to cut down on voter fraud, but that argument lacks teeth, since widescale voter fraud has been proven to be virtually non-existent. It is simple common sense that making voting convenient improves turnout. When polling places are closed, hours restricted, photo IDs required, turnout will suffer. What a message we are sending to our youth when we make it so hard for them to vote that many will throw their hands up in frustration and become lifelong non-voters!
One final thought. The states where the barriers are rising fastest are in political battlegrounds and places like Texas where one-party control is eroding. My thought is that if the Republicans have, as they claim to, the best ideas, the best platforms … then why do they need to cheat in order to win?
The young people in this country today are our hope for the future, for a future with clean air, potable water, arable land for growing food, and fewer guns in the hands of the wrong people. If we discourage them today, what is the message we are sending? Think about it.