Voter suppression over the decades has quietly moved from blatant denial of rights at polling places, such as literacy tests imposed on African-Americans during the 20th century, to subtle rule changes facing college students today.
It’s absurd that after all the progress made toward ensuring the right to vote for all of-age people in this country, that we’re still dealing with outright roadblocks to the ballot box.
But, we guess, if you can’t gerrymander, draw up some different borders to shape the vote.
A recent New York Times report outlined rule changes affecting polling in New Hampshire, Texas and Florida — all of which make it harder for college students in those states to vote. It’s clearly an effort on the part of Republicans to tamp down a surge of voting interest among young people and students. This interest has resulted in a doubling of turnout among this demographic since 2014, according to Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education.
Republicans, who sense these students are more likely to vote Democratic, have been scheming ways to make it harder for those constituents to cast ballots, and most of these efforts center around residency.
In New Hampshire, there have been several changes in state policy, the most significant of which was the passage of House Bill 1264 last year, which took effect in July of this year. Before the bill became law, out-of-state college students at New Hampshire schools could vote in this state by providing basic evidence of living here during the school year; a student ID, for example.
Now, other obligations are required if a student is to register to vote in New Hampshire, including getting a state driver’s license and registering a car here. It won’t be enough to prove residency through a utility bill, a letter from a college or an apartment lease. With nearly 60 percent of college students in New Hampshire from outside the state, this is potentially a big deal with non-resident students who want to vote here being forced to register their cars, an inconvenience to be sure, and not an inexpensive one.
It fulfills what former Republican House Speaker William O’Brien, quoted in the Times story, promised when he asked for a crackdown on “kids voting liberal, voting their feelings, with no life experience.”
Wow. Feelings? What about the feeling of forking over a few hundred bucks to register a car in order to vote? Sounds eerily like the unconstitutional poll taxes of Jim Crow days, when a fee was required to vote. And that’s just what the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union argued Wednesday when it appeared before the U.S. District Court in Concord, alleging HB 1264 is unconstitutional. The ACLU lawsuit is brought on behalf of two Dartmouth College students who would be required to pay for driver’s licenses if they want to vote in the Granite State.
Aside from this state, illustrated by the Times were circumstances in Texas where the Legislature outlawed polling places that don’t stay open the entire 12-day, early-voting period in the state. That may seem reasonable, but the legislation was clearly targeting college campuses, where pop-up polling centers were opened on voting days to foster easier access to college students. The new rule will effectively eliminate these outlets, since they aren’t permanent polling places, making it harder for students to vote.
And consider Florida’s methods.
The Times article detailed 60,000 ballots being cast at Florida early-voting sites on college campuses in 2018, this after a federal court overruled a law banning such locales. Not willing to lick its wounds and retreat, the GOP-led Florida Legislature attached the same essential rules to a new election law this year with a twist: You can’t have an early-voting site unless you offer “sufficient non-permitted parking.” When was the last time there was sufficient parking for anything on a college campus?
There are some legitimate worries about college students properly voting in elections. It would be fraud if a student voted on campus, then scurried home to vote in his or her hometown.
But in 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case Symm v. United States, affirmed that government can’t ask, as a condition of voting, that college students remain in the state after graduation. HB 1264 does exactly that.
Government should be clearing the way to allow college students to vote on campus, or reasonably close by in the broader college community, without getting in the way with nonsensical barriers. At a time when young people are rushing forward in greater numbers to exercise their rights to vote, laws that attempt to keep them away from doing so should be changed.
One college that makes voting easy is Liberty University in Virginia, run by evangelical and Republican stalwart Jerry Falwell Jr. There, it’s simple for students to sign up to vote or change their residency to do so. It’s all online, and on election days, there’s a precinct open on campus. Of course, Falwell makes no secret who students should vote for and tells them as much in endorsement communications. He delivered the precinct to Donald Trump in 2016 with 85 percent of the vote — 2,739 for the president out of 3,205 ballots.
According to the News Advance of Lynchburg, Va., Benjamin Beals of New Hampshire, then 18 and a student at Liberty, cast his first-ever presidential ballot in that 2016 election.
We doubt he needed to register his car first.