The GOP Doesn't Know Me
It’s no secret that America’s youth tends to vote Democrat. In the 2008 presidential election, 68 percent of those aged 18-29 voted for Obama, while just 32 percent voted for McCain. This, combined with the recent increase in youth voter turnout (it went up 11 percent between 2000 and 2008), has made young Americans an important voting bloc for the Democratic Party.
That’s probably why the GOP has been pushing legislation that will make it much harder for the youth to vote. In 37 states Republicans have introduced measures that would require voters to present proof of residence IDs when they get to the polls on Election Day. This would prevent a lot of students who study at out-of-state colleges from voting. In the past, voters could use their college ID cards to register at polling places — when any ID was required at all (most states don’t require identification to vote). But if the new laws are passed, anyone who wants to vote will need a photo ID, complete with an in-state address. This will affect not only students but minorities as well, who don’t always have driver’s licenses, passports or other forms of identification.
It’s pretty obvious why the GOP is pushing these laws: they’ll make it harder for key Democratic supporters to vote. Even more worrisome is the fact that many of the states considering such legislation — like New Hampshire, Wisconsin and North Carolina — are expected to be major swing states in the next presidential election, which means that the youth vote could make or break the race. That’s what happened in 2008 when young voters turned out in droves and voted largely Democratic, giving Obama the edge over McCain.
The Republicans are arguing that these laws will reduce voting fraud, which sounds reasonable — why shouldn’t we make sure that voters are who they say they are? And students who study in a different state can just change their official residency and get a new ID.
But then again: it’s hard enough getting students to the polls at all. Only recently did youth voter turnout increase, and that was after years of “Get Out the Vote” campaigns by political parties and youth-focused organizations like Rock the Vote. Do we really expect college students to file all the correct paperwork and re-register in a different state on their own accord? That seems a little ambitious, considering how long it took to get them to vote at all. Especially since many students will return home once they graduate college, and would therefore have to change their residency again.
And the GOP’s argument that the new legislation would reduce the “problem” of voting fraud is untrue — because voting fraud isn’t actually a problem. It’s almost nonexistent. According to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy and law institute at New York University, voting fraud happens less than 1 percent of the time in the U.S., about as often as Americans get killed by lightning.
Even if the GOP’s argument was valid, they ruined any chance of convincing us that the prevention of voting fraud is their only motive when William O’Brien, the Republican House Speaker of New Hampshire, was caught on video being a little too honest.
“Voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do,” he said to a tea party group in early March. “They don’t have life experience, they just vote their feelings.”
Thus, in about one minute of that 13-minute video, O’Brien managed to offend a voting bloc that has proved crucial in the last two presidential elections. Apparently, young people don’t care about budget cuts to Planned Parenthood and Pell Grants, nor do they care about gay marriage and abortion rights. Nope. They just “vote their feelings.”
Republicans would do better to try and gain support among young voters rather than isolating and disenfranchising them. If the GOP launched a marketing campaign aimed at winning over the youth vote, it might get somewhere. Better yet, it could actually consider young Americans when it forms its policies — but that’s too much of a stretch.
Instead, the Grand Old Party has succeeded in angering college students across the nation — Democrats and Republicans alike.
“The way I see the lines here is we are students first and foremost,” said Richard Sunderland, a student at Dartmouth College who is the president of the college’s Republican group. “As students, this is attacking our right to vote.”
Maybe the best part of this ingenious plan is that it would actually cost the government money. It’s technically unconstitutional for the state to charge voters — but if Americans had to purchase new IDs to vote, that’s exactly what it would be doing. In effect, the government would be charging a poll tax, no different than those that were enforced years ago on American blacks.
Republicans have been winning more and more seats in state legislatures recently, and this past November they took over the House of Representatives. But instead of using this new power to appeal to traditionally Democratic supporters, the GOP has driven young voters in the opposite direction by living up to the stereotypical image of a conservative: an old man who is completely out of touch with the nation’s youth.