New voting laws requiring identification and eliminating absentee ballots disenfranchise young and low-income voters in various states.
Students who move out-of-state to attend college normally shrug a slew of stresses on their shoulders. From a potentially higher tuition to possible travel expenses, most college students think they have enough to worry about. A new wave of laws, however, could be adding to that list.
Throughout the country, voting laws are being pursued that will affect a wide range of voting issues including voter IDs, proof of citizenship, strict registration, reduction in absentee balloting and disenfranchisement of voters with a felony conviction.
In October 2011, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law released a report outlining the potential effects of these voting law changes. Based on the laws being affected, the report estimates that more than 5 million voters could be affected by the new laws.
Not all of these laws have been hailed as improvements in the voting process.
“Any efforts to restrict people’s right to elect their public officials is un-American as can possibly be,” Philadelphia Councilman Jim Kenney said. “These laws or restrictions are directed at young people, poor people, less educated people and it is a bald faced way of disenfranchising folks.”
James Beach, a state senator in New Jersey, offered similar insight into voter restriction laws.
“I think it’s absurd because everyone has a right to participate in the election process and to disenfranchise any individual – to me – is certainly an atrocity because everyone has that right,” Beach said. “College students are a perfect example of people who may be disenfranchised by some of these crazy ideas that people come up with and I think that we need to go the opposite way and do everything we can to make the voting process as open and as accessible as we can.”
One of the major effects these changes have is on college students who move out of state. The Brennan Center’s report outlined five states – Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee – that have enacted laws that reduced early voting periods that would make it harder for students who live at college to come back and vote. In addition, the report said four states tried to reduce absentee voting opportunities, which would also affect college students.
“Let’s say you lived in Pennsylvania and then you went to school in Texas, you would want to be able to vote in the swing state in the presidential election,” political science professor Kevin Arceneaux said. “If Pennsylvania didn’t allow you to vote by absentee, well then you’d be out of luck unless you actually got on a plane, came back to Pennsylvania on Election Day and went to the polls. This would be a detriment and an obstacle for many college students.”
Although legislation like this is being combated with anger by some, the motives behind these laws are to combat voter fraud said Luke McKinstry, a policy assistant with Committee of Seventy, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit government watchdog group.
Some of the laws are also welcomed by some at Temple who believe that they play a crucial role in the voting process.
“Everyone who votes should have [to provide] a voter ID before they vote,” Erik Jacobs, junior political science major and president of the Temple University College Republicans said. “I think that’s pretty mainstream. You should be who you say you are when you vote.”
Although the laws are welcomed by some, Kenney said the legislation is unwarranted.
“You can’t even make an argument that there’s some positive benefit to this, it’s ridiculous,” Kenney said. “Same thing with photo ID. Some people don’t have photo ID, some people don’t drive. If you don’t drive you’re probably poor, if you’re poor you’re probably not voting for republicans and that’s who’s passing this stuff.”
Kenney also said that he thinks the motives behind these laws are, “voter suppression and the inability to get the majority of the people in this country to agree with them.”
Locally, there is one voter ID bill in Pa. that passed the state house of representatives and is sitting in the state senate.
“This bill would be on the severe end in terms of the restrictions it places on voters,” McKinstry said. “It would require Pennsylvania voters to show a government issued photo ID.”
McKinstry added that valid IDs would include a driver’s license, non-license photo ID, U.S. passport, a student ID and a senior care ID. He said that if the law were to pass, it would apply to everyone except those with disabilities, or veterans.
“So, at this point the bill has not passed, but there is a very real chance that it may pass,” McKinstry said.
McKinstry also said that the Committee of Seventy does not support the bill, H.B. 934, and said if out-of-state students do not have a valid ID, they would have to go through the process of getting an ID for voting purposes through the PA Department of Transportation.
Local lawmakers have exhibited extreme frustration to this kind of legislation that has been sweeping throughout the country and are offering ideas to allow more people to participate in the electoral process.
“I think there’s a way to protect the integrity of the election and make voting more convenient for the average person,” Beach said.
Beach added that a major way to increase voter participation could be to streamline elections and decrease the amount of elections that are held throughout the year. He also said that voting electronically and voting by mail are major ways to make voting convenient.
“In any one year, you may have in excess of 20 or 30 elections. When you throw in fire districts, when you throw in special school elections, you have your school elections on one date, your fire elections on another date, your primary, your general election,” Beach said. “If we streamline and have fewer elections, maybe the participation would go up.”
Kenny added to this and said elections should be more open and more accessible to everyone.
“We should be making it as easy as possible for people to cast their vote, not harder,” Kenney said. “[We could make it easier] by not passing stupid laws.”
Although laws restricting voters are being passed throughout the country, local lawmakers agreed they should be going in the opposite direction – to make elections accessible and not restrictive.
“To disenfranchise any voter is unacceptable and to disenfranchise young voters is even more egregious because once people aren’t voting or participating in the process, it becomes easier to be cynical and to continue to not participate,” Beach said. “I really think that we need to go the opposite way.”
Sean Carlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.