The GOP Is Making It Harder for College Students to Vote

The GOP Is Making It Harder for College Students to Vote

Republican lawmakers are making it harder for students to cast ballots where they attend school, after the GOP suffered stinging recent electoral losses largely due to a historic surge in turnout from younger voters backing Democrats.

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(Bloomberg) — Republican lawmakers are making it harder for students to cast ballots where they attend school, after the GOP suffered stinging recent electoral losses largely due to a historic surge in turnout from younger voters backing Democrats. 

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A new law in Idaho specifically bars the use of student identification cards to vote, while a change in Ohio law means students will no longer be able to use tuition or college housing receipts as a form of voter ID, long a popular option for students without state driver’s licenses.

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Similar legislation has been introduced in at least 11 other states this year, including the presidential battlegrounds of Pennsylvania and Nevada, according to Voting Rights Lab. Other bills have also targeted student voters, such as one in Texas that would bar college campuses from serving as polling places.

Younger voter turnout surged in Wisconsin’s recent Supreme Court election — one that hinged on abortion rights — helping Democrats recapture the court majority. Former Republican Governor Scott Walker tweeted that “younger voters are the issue,” blaming “years of radical indoctrination” in schools and social media and calling for conservatives to come together to work harder to “counter liberal indoctrination to save America.”

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Liz Azore, who has been tracking the bills for Voting Rights Lab, said that Republican lawmakers seem more interested in legislating on student voting than usual.

“There is a lot more energy on this issue than we’ve seen in the past,” she said.

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The proposals from state Republicans come as young voters have become a key voting bloc for Democrats, who believe progressive stands on issues like climate change and student debt will keep those voters in their camp for years to come.  

In Idaho, the number of 18- and 19-year-olds registered to vote jumped 81% from 2018 to 2022, the largest percentage increase in any state, according to CIRCLE.

And many of those new voters are choosing Democrats. 

In November, voters between ages 18 and 29 backed Democratic House candidates by 28 percentage points, the second-largest margin in three decades and the strongest showing for Democrats among any age group, according to CIRCLE. Turnout among that age group is also at 30-year highs, hitting 27% in the 2022 election.

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Danielle Deiseroth, interim executive director of the progressive think tank Data for Progress, said that polls show younger voters are focused on issues they believe affect them directly, like gun control and abortion rights. 

“Young people are not voting because of ‘vibes,’” she said. “They are voting because they are paying attention to the issues.”

Polls show broad public support for voter ID laws, but lawmakers have long sparred over whether student IDs, which are not government-issued, should count. In addition to Idaho’s ban, five states bar their use for voting. And no student IDs currently meet the requirements to be used in Arizona. Iowa and Utah only allow them when paired with other documentation.

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Idaho state Representative Tina Lambert, who introduced the new ban, said it was necessary to stop students from neighboring states from voting twice, although she did not cite any evidence of that happening.

“Some are going to say that this bill will prevent young people from voting,” she said in a speech on the state House floor. “That is certainly not the goal. The goal is simply to ensure that only qualified people are voting in Idaho elections.”

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March for Our Lives Idaho, a student-led advocacy group in support of gun control, sued over the law in federal court, calling it a “surgical attack on Idaho’s young voters” in response to growing turnout. Co-director Amaia Clayton, a high school senior, said that the law is “hypocritical” because the state allows gun permits to be used as voter ID.

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The Ohio law barred student IDs as well as a more common form of voter ID used by college students: tuition receipts, bank statements and utility bills which have a student’s campus address on them. 

Rob Nichols, a spokesman for the Ohio secretary of state, said that college students are now able to get a free state identification card from the Department of Motor Vehicles to vote in person, or they can vote by mail, which does not require photo ID.

Mia Lewis, associate director of the voting rights organization Common Cause Ohio, questioned why the change was needed.

“Our secretary of state has said for years that Ohio runs model elections, setting a standard for the entire country, and yet suddenly there’s a desire to change them,” she said. “It’s perfectly legitimate to ask what’s driving these sudden changes.”

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