Conservatives try to silence students

By Editorial Board

Republican legislators in several states, including New Hampshire, North Carolina and Wisconsin, are pushing for changes in local voting laws that would affect college students’ ability to cast their ballots on election day. A New Hampshire bill would limit student voting in college towns to those whose parents had previously established permanent residency there. Other proposals include ending same-day registration and requiring state-issued photo IDs or passports to be presented at polling places. This would force students with out-of-state IDs to run through unfair hurdles to vote. Many students would either have to go home to vote or simply not vote at all.

The proposed bills are being presented under the guise of regulations to reduce and prevent voter fraud, but their true intentions could not be clearer. New Hampshire State House Speaker William O’Brien was caught on video stating that college students were “foolish” for “voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do. They don’t have life experience, they just vote their feelings.”

Young people are not as ignorant as O’Brien’s statement makes them out to be. Students today are more politically conscious than ever. The technology at our disposal and the youth appeal of media like The Daily Show and The Huffington Post keep students informed about current issues. The fact that newly elected tea party legislators disagree with the way many young people vote does not grant them the power to take that right away.

It seems these proposed bills would be unconstitutional because they prohibit or hinder the right of U.S. citizens to vote and target a specific group of people—a potential violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. These measures would be comparable to the literacy tests and grandfather clauses that accompanied the voting-related Jim Crow laws after the Civil War, which, while they technically applied to everyone, were designed to prohibit African-Americans from voting.

Legal-age college students have the same right to a voice in politics as anyone else. Our leaders’ decisions affect us just as much as older voters. As we prepare to leave college, we deserve to have a say in shaping the world we’re entering. Furthermore, many students live on or near their campuses for a long-term period, often for four years or more, and are impacted by the actions of local government just as much as permanent residents.

College students on both sides of the political spectrum should come together to speak out against these restrictive and insulting proposals. We must ensure they are not passed in the states where they’re on the table or proposed anywhere else. If we want to be taken seriously as politically active citizens, we have to make it clear we won’t stand for our rights to be stripped away.