Column | Oct. 3
New Jersey might not hold as much sway as North Carolina in the national electoral balance, but we do have our fair share of interesting elections. In addition to the statewide elections in November, we will have the special election for the open U.S. Senate seat on Oct. 16, less than a month away.
But what if you showed up at your polling place on campus and could not vote? Luckily, that will not happen this fall at Princeton, assuming you meet a few basic requirements. But 33 states around the United States have already changed their electoral laws to increase voting eligibility requirements, with many of these new laws wrongly targeting students and preventing them from easily voting.
A new North Carolina law will end same-day registration and require voters to show government-issued IDs to vote; a college ID will not suffice as proper identification. The bill also reduces the early voting period and removes preregistration for high school students. While in 1979 the Supreme Court determined that students are allowed to vote where they attend college, most students do not switch their driver’s license to their new state of residence and therefore won’t be able to vote.
Essentially this new law and other related laws restrict the youth vote by making it more difficult for students to get registered. And when students are busy with class and extracurricular activities, they cannot always make the added effort needed to meet these new more stringent requirements to be eligible to vote. Unfortunately, this means that students can still be taken advantage of by laws like HB-589, because if they are not voting, those in power might not have students’ best interests at heart.
Students can and should fight back by ensuring that they and their peers meet these new standards so that they can have a voice in upcoming elections. At some level, it may be true that students are abnegating their civil responsibility by being apathetic; however, the government’s goal should not be to make students jump through more hoops in order to vote. Politicians should be ensuring our government truly is by the people and for the people by ensuring that voting is easily accessible to all. This is why the Department of Justice announced that it is suing North Carolina for violating voting rights.
Theoretically, these new restrictions could reduce voting fraud, a perfectly valid goal. However, no material voting fraud has occurred in North Carolina or in other states that have enacted similar laws. Because of these inconsistencies, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit challenging a Texas voter identification law. In Texas, a license to carry a concealed handgun is adequate documentation to vote, but somehow a college ID is not.
The true motive behind the North Carolina bill appears to be partisan. North Carolina has a Republican-controlled state legislature, and the new law targets student voters (among others), a demographic likely to vote Democratic. According to “The Huffington Post,” the HB-589 bill was “GOP-backed.”
Diana Kasdan, senior counsel at the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, told the Chronicle of Higher Education, “It’s clearly targeting student voters. They tend to vote Democratic, and it’s a Republican-controlled state legislature that passed it.”
Concerns that the younger generation tends to vote Democratic have some statistical foundation. Even though former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, won North Carolina, two-thirds of voters under the age of 30 voted Democratic. There is no denying that the large number of college students voting could potentially affect certain election results, but that does not mean youth votes can be silenced.
“The Washington Post” reported that President Obama won at least 60 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 in both the 2008 and 2012 election cycles. But the statistics reveal a more significant disparity. Only 41 percent of eligible voters from ages 18-24 voted in the 2012 presidential election per the most recent Census Bureau report. This was a decrease from youth turnout in the 2008 election and the lowest turnout rate among any age group.
Rather than each political party looking out for their own interests and candidates, they should join together in a bipartisan effort to increase voter turnout in all age groups and across political parties. In Frist, the campus Republicans, Democrats and P-Votes, a nonpartisan organization, worked together in September to register students to vote in New Jersey. Here, voter participation comes first, and party comes second. Legislators around the nation would do well to follow this example.
So, when you vote in a few weeks, just make sure you switched to vote in New Jersey and that you are a U.S. citizen over 18. You also must have been living in Mercer County for 30 days. But luckily for you, by the time elections come around you will have been staying up late and writing papers for at least that long. Oh, and try not be a convicted felon!
Marni Morse is a freshman from Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mlmorse