Voting restriction laws disenfranchise young voters

by Mike Heral

It’s Election Day and a line of Americans snakes through a musty auditorium, anxious to decide the direction of the nation. Suddenly, a police squad marches in. They’re dressed in riot gear from head to toe with reflective visors protecting their identities from the nation they’ve sworn to serve. They fan out and snatch voters, herding them into awaiting cattle trucks. The apprehended citizens all have one thing in common: they are old. They’ll never be seen again.

This scenario could be a scene from George Orwell’s “1984,” but the seeds of dystopia are surely being sown in present-day America, with 16 states using divisive templates forged in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Florida isn’t a stranger to voting roll shenanigans. It was the decisive vote in the 2000 general election pitting George W. Bush against Al Gore. A subsequent study by The Washington Post revealed ballots favoring Gore were discarded three-to-one against those voting for Bush. Continuing its voter engineering, Florida targeted 2,700 minorities as non-citizens, when only 40 were non-citizens. Only lawsuits and resignations stand in the way of more purges.

However, states don’t currently have to depend on unreliable post- vote tampering to alter the course of an election. Instead, they are increasingly relying on laws aimed at filtering who gets to vote and who doesn’t. On Aug. 15, Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court ruled voters must present valid government-issued photo identification to cast a ballot. And in Ohio, the GOP-domi- nated legislature shortened the time frame for early voting, except for the military. One cynically wonders if it’s because soldiers and sailors tend to vote Republican.

Voter suppression angered author George R. R. Martin enough to exclaim, “The people behind these efforts at disenfranchising large groups of voters … are not Republicans, since clearly they have scant regard for our republic or its values. They are oligarchs and racists clad in the skins of dead elephants.”

Make no mistake, voter suppression is aimed at you. U.S. Census voting data revealed a positive participation trend among college-age voters, rising from 40 percent in 2000 to 51 percent in 2008. No other age group increased as radically. The young are largely credited as being one of two demographics that propelled President Barack Obama into the White House. The opposition is singularly focused on making it as difficult as possible for that same generation to vote. The people behind these laws can’t abide another 2008. And they are winning.

A May 1 – July 10 Gallup Poll revealed young adult voting is expected to lag 20 percentage points behind the national average. That is significantly worse than in 2008 where energized young voters faced only a seven per- centage point gap in voter participa- tion. Obama will lose if young adults waves for California’s 2008 and 2010 elections, because it featured referen- dums on gay marriage and marijuana legalization. The facts show why both initiatives lost. During the 2008 general elections only 59 percent of eligible Californians voted. That number dropped to 44 percent in 2010. Young adults are the least represented of all age groups; therefore, their absence paved the way for defeat.

In Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” the titular character poetically sums up the problem with apathy, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” A free society requires unrestricted access to ballots. The growing fervor toward voter suppression leads to the election of candidates looking out for the privileged few. Too many men and women your age have sacrificed their lives defending this country for voter suppression to become emblematic of America.

You have a responsibility to be vigilant of politicians who attempt to subvert your right to vote. Hold them accountable at the very place they don’t want to let you in. Imagine what the world would be like if you increased your commitment to vote. Would sustainability be the order of the day? Would college debt be a minor annoyance instead of a choke-hold? Would voting via the Internet be more than just a wistful notion?