On March 23, 1971, Congress passed the 26th Amendment. It was ratified and went into effect on July 1, 1971 and states, “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age”.
Although the 26th Amendment clearly express that our young adult population has the right to vote, student-voting registration in particular has long been an issue. Furthermore, in recent years states have implemented voting laws that are more complex, confusing and restrictive; unfairly targeting college students since this group often has trouble establishing residency where they live and attend school.
Instead of policy makers encouraging college students to participate in America’s democratic voting process, they are making the practice of basic civil rights extremely difficult. Such is the case for the upcoming elections. Thousands of college student will be attempting to register to vote, but will be turned away because they either have an out-state driver’s license or told that their college ID is not valid to cast their vote, among other reasons. It has also become very evident that Republican state lawmakers are openly doing everything possible to prevent students from voting in the 2012 presidential election simply because college students tend to be more liberal.
New Hampshire, among other Republican states, has already passed strict voting ID laws that will bar thousands of college students from voting in the community in which they live and attend school. New Hampshire Republican House Speaker, William O’Brien, in a recent speech to a Tea Party group stated, “They’re foolish, voting as liberals. That’s what kids do.” He also stated, “Students lack life experience and they just vote their feelings.”
It has become apparent that an objective of the Republican Party is to restrict the voting rights of certain demographic groups that tend to vote Democrat. One way of achieving this is stop college students from voting by claiming that stricter ID laws are necessary to prevent fraudulent voting. Unfortunately, with the severe federal penalties imposed on fraudulently voting there are hardly any cases to cite.
Opponents of the restrictive voting ID laws are citing Newberger v. Peterson, a 1972 Federal District Court case, stating that the state cannot bar college students from voting in New Hampshire on the basis that they intend to leave after graduation, and that such policies are a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Moreover, in United States v. Symm, a 1979 Supreme Court case ruled that states must allow students to vote in the communities where they attend school. In a 5-4 decision, the Court stated that, “it cannot conceive of any reason why it should not be presumed that student applications for voter registration, like any other applicant, have made their application to register in good faith.” Furthermore the Court stated that “. . . there is no requirement that a student, in order to establish that he is a resident of the place where he wishes to vote, establish that he intends to remain there permanently or for any particular period of time”
However, despite precedence being set, states are still denying students their right to vote. Nevertheless, students do understand the importance of exercising their civic duty, their right to do so, and their role in shaping the future. In the 2008 presidential election approximately two million young adults voted. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) in the 2008 election youth voters’ turnout between the ages of 18-29 rose to 51%, which is an increase of 2% from the 2004 election. Furthermore, in the 2010 midterm election, CIRLCE reported that an estimated 24% of young people between the ages of 18-29 voted. Such an increase in youth voters can be attributed to the increase in awareness students now have about the importance of voting. Moreover, statistics show that younger votes tend to choose Democratic candidates over Republican by a margin of 57%-40%.
It is clear that college student voters’ participation is on the rise and our political leaders should be celebrating and continues to encourage our educated young adults to participate in the country’s election. Instead, college students are witnessing a state-by-state effort in erecting new barriers and laws in a blatant attempt in making it harder and harder for college students to vote, which is clearly against their constitutional rights as citizens of the United States. Therefore, imposing these restrictions to win elections will only make a generation of college student cynical about their experience with the democratic election process.