So there it is. Clearly stated. It’s what university advocates for student voting have found all along: Some prominent Republicans don’t want students to vote. Ways to limit young people’s voter participation include being sure polling places are not available on college campuses and students are not registered where they go to college, so that they must travel long distances to cast a ballot or vote absentee, which Republicans also want to limit.
The Washington Post reported on April 20 that GOP legal strategist Cleta Mitchell was in Nashville in April to speak to Tennessee Republicans about “level[ing the] playing field for 2024”―meaning, reducing voter access and turnout among the nation’s youngest voters. “What are these college campus locations? … They basically put the polling place next to the student dorm so [students] just have to roll out of bed” to vote, Mitchell said.
Would that it were so, Ms. Mitchell.
The Tennessee General Assembly House of Representatives Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee has stopped all bills in favor of polling places on campuses and using student IDs as voter ID. Such bills never make it out of subcommittee to the Local Government Committee, let alone to House floor debate. Legislation that could assist Tennessee’s college students in voting has been stopped every time. The Elections and Campaign Finance subcommittee is where youth-voting bills go to die.
I am very much part of “this young people effort that they do” that Mitchell spoke about. I work proactively to get students from across the state and nation registered to vote, to be able to vote while they are in college. It is my civic duty to educate our youngest citizens to step up to their obligations as full participants in the republic, to take on the mantle of American citizenship. I do so because we know from decades of studies that the sooner citizens engage in the civic responsibility of voting, the sooner it becomes a life habit. We also know voter participation increases when citizens vote where they live, when voting is accessible to them.
Why is accessible voting so off-putting to some Americans? Shouldn’t every citizen vote? Don’t we want to support voting, educate for it, and instill it for a lifetime? Don’t we want to build the future of the United States by developing, encouraging, and investing in the informed, prepared, active citizenship of young Americans? Don’t we want to go out of our way to assure voting is easy for every citizen? College students are our best and brightest, our tomorrow. The sooner they become involved, committed citizens, the better the nation.
The scare tactic of “election integrity,” protecting against “voter fraud,” is a ruse aimed at restricting the ballot to selected, narrow categories of Americans. Even when the 15th Amendment in 1870 protected voting on the basis of race, such discrimination continued long into the next century. As a woman, I was not in an acceptable category until Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Eighteen-year-olds can vote now because Tennessee enthusiastically ratified the 26th Amendment on the very day it was passed by Congress in 1971. Let’s assist our students in voting, not combat them.
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