Saturday, December 31, 2011

Keeping Students From the Polls

Among the findings of the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Dec. 7-11, 2011:
"There is a sharp difference by age when it comes to the word liberal – while 61% of people under age 30 react positively, just 34% of those age 65 and older say the same. By contrast, reactions to the word conservative are almost identical across all age groups."
In 2008, enthusiasm about Obama’s message of “hope” and “change” toward more liberal (progressive) ideals drew college students and other young adults to volunteer for political groups, to register to vote and to head to the polls on Election Day. In 2008, nearly 70 percent of voters 29 and younger voted for Obama — the highest share of youth votes ever to go to any one candidate, according to exit polls. (note: for the Nov. 2012 election, those young 2008 voters will be age 34 and younger.)

In a national survey of Americans, ages 18-29, conducted by Harvard’s Institute of Politics in March 2011, 80 percent said they have a Facebook account. Among college students, 90 percent use the account. Facebook friend statuses were second only to major national newspapers in sources that young adults said they would be interested in turning to for information about the 2012 campaign.

Republican state lawmakers in seven states, including Texas, have passed strict laws requiring one of a very limited selection of government-issued photo IDs (like a driver’s license or a passport) to vote. Many college and university students carry only their student ID cards and don’t have one of the newly required voting IDs. Many of those new photo ID laws have been interpreted as prohibiting out-of-state driver’s licenses from being used for voting, which will further restrict the states' "non-resident" students 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.

"I don't want everybody to vote," Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the billionaire-funded Heritage Foundation, Moral Majority, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other conservative organizations, said while addressing a conservative Republican audience. "Our leverage in the elections goes up as the voting populace goes down," he added after he denigrated those who seek "good government" through maximum, informed voter participation as people who suffer from the "goo goo syndrome." Weyrich was also a co-founder of the Council for National Policy, a strategy-formulating organization for social conservatives; co-publisher of the magazine Conservative Digest; and national chairman of Coalitions for America, an association of conservative activist organizations.

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.


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