by Mary Ellen Flannery
Overcoming the potentially dire effects of new voter suppression laws on young voters is possible: it will just take committed, passionate volunteers to spread the word on how to register and vote, said David Tjaden, NEA-Student chair.
Fortunately, NEA-Student members are doing exactly that, in conjunction with the Campus Vote Project, a project of the Fair Elections Legal Network, and other allied groups. This week, as the Campus Vote Project held its first electronic town hall to share best practices and advice, NEA-Student members hosted their twelfth “Commit to Vote” event on a college campus.
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“Our student members are so excited about this election. They understand how politics will affect their future lives and careers in the classroom, and they just want to get out and vote for public education,” Tjaden said. “But we also know it doesn’t matter how excited they are to vote, if they show up at the polls on Election Day with the wrong kind of ID.”
Voter suppression laws have the potential to deny the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of Americans, especially in states where the vote is expected to be close, like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and especially among young, old, and minority voters. This week, researchers from the University of Chicago and Washington University concluded that photo-ID requirement specifically would deny voting rights to 700,000 minority voters, under the age of 30.
Those “photo ID laws” often require voters to bring state driver’s licenses or other state-issued IDs to the polls. But students attending college out-of-state don’t usually get new driver’s licenses. In Pennsylvania, home to more out-of-state students than any other state in the country, attorneys are preparing now for the state Supreme Court to hear the case around that state’s new voter ID law.
But NEA-Student members, as well as leaders of the Campus Vote Project, aren’t waiting for a court decision. “A lot of what’s happening now is about cutting through the confusion about how and where to register, and where and how to vote,” said Andy MacCracken of the National Campus Leadership Council, during this week’s Campus Vote Project Town Hall.
This week, a high-energy “Commit to Vote” event, held by PSEA-Student leaders at East Stroudsberg University in far-eastern Pennsylvania, provided hundreds of students with the information that they need to get properly registered. Tjaden, who attended the event, called it “very comprehensive.” Similar rallies were held earlier this week in Ohio, and more are scheduled for Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, and elsewhere. At every “Commit to Vote” event, students are invited to take a non-partisan pledge that commits them to voting in November.
“There is a huge amount of confusion out there. People are throwing up their hands and saying, ‘I don’t know!’” said Mark Ritchie, Minnesota Secretary of State, during this week’s Town Hall. But Ritchie was hopeful that the confusion could be overcome, especially among students. “They’re clued into social media, and they’re in geographically concentrated areas. I think there’s a good argument to be made that we can do our education work with them more efficiently than with our seniors.”
Get out there, Ritchie urged students. Hold events, spread the word about voter registration requirements, “and serve pizza!”