Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

GOP-Sponsored Efforts Seek to Restrict Student Voters

January 7th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

According to a January 5, 2008 report on AlterNet.org, a number of largely unnoticed GOP-sponsored election laws could have a devastating effect on students’ voting rights. Acoording to this recent article, Bill Clinton, Hilary Clinton, and Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen have all railed against the participation of large numbers of college and university students in the Iowa Caucuses. The basis for this outcry is their believe that out-of-state students somehow “skew” the real, true will of Iowa voters.

Apparently the Clintons and Yepsen are not alone in this belief. On the other side of the political spectrum from Sen. Clinton sit a sizable grouping of Republican legislators who would also seek to limit the participation of students, people of color, and others whose vote might — apparently — contradict the real will of the more authentic, more representative citizens of a given state. Unfortunately, while the Clintons and Yepsen are battling student participation with their words, these GOP legislators are taking more concrete action:

The real barrier to student voting in 2008 is not admonitions from the Clintons. It is a patchwork of state laws, according to Rosenfeld, that discourage student voting. Arizona, for instance, rejects out-of-state driver’s licenses as an acceptable voter ID. The same is true in Indiana. New Hampshire requires students to register at local government offices. Virginia allows local election officials to decide if a dormitory qualifies as a “domicile.” Some do, Rosenfeld said, and some do not. New Mexico restricts the number of voter registration forms one person may carry at a time. And Texas has new penalties for “improperly” helping people with absentee ballots. — Steven Rosenfeld, “GOP Already at Work to Keep Obama Voters From the Polls,” for AlterNet.org

All of these efforts to restrict student voting bring to mind recent and not-so-recent discussions with students in my classes, about whether or not voting has any relevance in the current political environment. In particular, I have encountered a number of young people who are truly struggling to determine whether or not voting in national elections is an effective means of engaging in the work of social change and social justice.

It would seem that this AlterNet article answers that question unequivocally. If the active participation of student voters did not have the capacity to bring about socio-economic and political change, then there would be far fewer efforts to limit that right. Left, right, or center, students need to participate in both national and local elections. As members of a younger generation, one that brings to the table a relationship to issues of gender, race, class, and environment far different than that of older voters, their voices are among the most important in any election. Younger voters understand aspects of our current cultural, economic, and political environment in ways that I and other older voters cannot. Those in the youngest voting demographic were born into and shaped by a world profoundly different from the one in which I came of age, and this difference is reflected in the sometimes dramatically different understanding that we have of the meaning and function of power, media, money, relationships, and family. Young voters’ ideas and opinions reflect an understanding of the current moment that picks up on nuances and subtleties of elements like the relationship of technology to race, for example, that I cannot grasp as easily.

If you are a student, please do whatever you can to insure that — during the current election season — your right to vote is secure. If you are not a student, reach out to young voters both on and off campus, make sure they are registered, and encourage them to participate in this and other elections.

I have long believed that students and other young voters should not have to be convinced and cajoled into working to choose the leaders who will shape the coming decades, and that the importance of exercising this fundamental right was self-evident. Time has shown me, however, that for many young people, generations removed from those who remember when large numbers of Americans were not permitted to exercise their voting rights, the right to vote goes both ways.

Many young people I’ve spoken with consider their refusal to vote a strike against the status quo. I call upon all those who have skipped elections in the past and who are contemplating the possibility of sitting out the current presedential race, and I encourage every one of you, regardless of your political leanings, to consider the type of political statement you are making when you opt out of a system that wants you to do exactly that!

Posted by Ajuan Mance

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Posted in AlterNet, Hilary Clinton, Iowa Caucuses, Student Voters, Voting Rights, young voters

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