By Cameron Clarke, Campus Contributing Columnist
Posted 12:05 PM EST, Sat., Nov. 12, 2016
I get it. It’s your freshman (or sophomore, or junior, or senior) year. You’ve hardly had time to settle in to your dorm and figure out exactly what you’re supposed to be doing with your life. You’ve got classes, exams, organizations, administrative battles — more pressing concerns than something as mundane as voting.
This might have been your first year of eligibility, and that means registering, filling out forms, finding a polling place, researching the candidates and casting a ballot. It’s a pain. It’s almost enough to make someone decide to just try again in another four years.
But what if discouraging you were the whole point? Voting is hard, complicated and inconvenient. There’s no way around it. But consider the possibility that voting is arduous not by coincidence, but by design. Consider the possibility that the voting process might have been structured in a conscious attempt to disenfranchise college students.
Although it seems more reminiscent of the scheming of post-Reconstruction politicians than the actions of modern lawmakers , troublingly, it’s more than just a theory. Voter suppression isn’t making a comeback — really, it never stopped. And modern forms of disenfranchisement have been well-documented by publications across the political spectrum.
In 2011 the state of Alabama passed a law requiring all registered voters to show a government-issued license in order to vote. Two years later the same state, joined by several others from the Cotton Belt, successfully persuaded the Supreme Court to strike down one of the core provisions of the Voting Rights Act, allowing the state to change its voting laws without permission from the federal government. October of 2015 saw the closure of 31 driver’s license offices across the state of Alabama, with the disproportionate majority of those closings affecting the state’s largely Democratic, predominantly black counties. This effectively cut thousands of African Americans off from the opportunity to vote.
Even more recently, this past July an appeals court in North Carolina struck down a voter-ID law for being discriminatory against African Americans, noting:
“Before enacting [the law], the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.”
The North Carolina legislature didn’t just pass any ordinary voter-suppression bill. It specifically operated in a concerted effort to prevent as many black residents from voting as possible.
But none of this is new. The disenfranchisement of African-Americans is as old as our right to vote. What is new is the latest target of state voter suppression. In addition to black voters, states’ recent voting restrictions are having a disproportionate impact on another demographic: college students.
Under North Carolina’s new voter ID laws, registered voters without valid forms of ID are required to cast provisional ballots. According to North Carolina’s television news service, WRAL, four of the five counties with the highest concentrations of provisional ballots from voters without ID are home to college campuses.
North Carolina is just one case; similar restrictions can be seen across the country. Texas’s new voter restrictions allow handgun licenses to qualify as voter ID, but not Texas student ID cards. Even Maine has a history of investigating resident students for voter fraud for having cars without Maine registrations.
And this type of voter suppression has proven disturbingly effective. A report from the U.S. Census Bureau found that in 2012, despite making up more than 21 percent of the voting-eligible population, 18- to 24-year-olds cast just 15 percent of all ballots; less than half even bothered to show up to the polls.
States all across the country are not just coincidentally making it difficult for you to vote — they’re doing it on purpose. And they’re doing it for a reason: Student voters are more than capable of swinging elections at every level of government. For many jurisdictions, suppressing the student vote is the only thing keeping certain parties in power.
Voting isn’t just a right, and it’s certainly not a privilege (despite what some state legislators might believe). It is a civic duty — our collective debt to those who earned it for us. Do not allow electoral bureaucracy to snatch from you what so many worked for so long to claim. So whomever you voted for in this election, please continue to vote. Because even more important than who you vote for, is proving that you can.