WASHINGTON — The problem with “foolish” young voters, says a New Hampshire Republican, is that “they don’t have life experience and they just vote their feelings.”
“Voting as a liberal — that’s what kids do,” House Speaker William O’Brien said at a recent Tea Party event in recorded remarks that have caused a sensation this week in the United States.
Republicans are apparently so vexed by those young Democratic voters that they’re intent on passing two bills in the New Hampshire legislature.
One would allow students to cast ballots in their college towns only if they live there permanently, or if their parents do, requiring all other young voters to vote where they came from, even if it’s across the continent.
The rationale seemed to have been provided recently by another New Hampshire Republican, Gregory Sorg, who said taxpaying citizens in college towns are seeing their votes “diluted or entirely cancelled by those of a huge, largely monolithic demographic group … composed of people with a dearth of experience and a plethora of the easy self-confidence that only ignorance and inexperience can produce.”
Another New Hampshire bill would end same-day voter registration in New Hampshire. O’Brien says that practise leads to hordes of students descending upon polling stations on voting day, creating the potential for voter fraud.
The story went viral earlier this week when it appeared on the front page of the Washington Post.
As a result, Republicans in New Hampshire, which shares a tiny portion of its northern border with Quebec, have since been accused of attempting to quash democracy in order to stack the voter deck in their favour.
In response, Republicans are crying foul. The intent of two proposed voting reform bills, they say, is simply to crack down on voter fraud, not to disenfranchise young Democrats.
Changing the law “is not an idea targeting any political party or ideology,” O’Brien said in statement to the Post earlier this week.
Same-day registration “coupled with a lax definition of residency creates an environment in which people may be claiming residency in multiple locations.”
There’s just one problem with that explanation, says one expert on election law.
Numerous studies have shown that the type of voter fraud that New Hampshire Republicans are supposedly targeting is all but non-existent in the United States.
In what’s considered the most comprehensive study into the issue, Barnard College political scientist Lorraine Minnite concluded last year that extensive, intentional voter fraud is a myth.
“There’s lots more noise here than there is reality, there is lots more smoke than there is fire,” Justin Levitt, an associate professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said in an interview Tuesday.
“From what I’ve seen of these new bills, they’re not really aimed at fraud. There’s nothing illegal that’s been alleged. That students vote wrong does not seem a legitimate basis for electoral reform. That seems not only crazy, but dangerous.”
Thirty-two states are preparing to introduce laws that would require voters to present not just photo identification, but in some cases proof of citizenship, when they show up to vote on Election Day.
Proof of citizenship means either a passport, birth certificate or naturalization documents.
Each American state determines how to run its elections, and other Republican-controlled state legislatures are considering measures similar to New Hampshire’s.
A New Hampshire official announced Tuesday that hearings would be held this spring to explore whether voter fraud exists in the state. David Bates, the state’s election law chairman, told The Associated Press he plans to invite people to testify to a House committee who claim to have evidence of voter fraud.
New Hampshire isn’t alone in its efforts to ostensibly crack down on voter fraud in a nation still haunted by the infamous 2000 presidential election, when George W. Bush narrowly beat Al Gore amid voting irregularities in Florida.
In Wisconsin, a Republican-backed bill would also ban voters from using school-issued student cards as identification. Drivers’ licences and passports would be accepted, but opponents point out that many students don’t have either piece of identification.
“Voter ID requirements are one of many tactics used to disenfranchise voters,” Heather Smith of Rock The Vote, a group that encourages young Americans to cast ballots, said in a statement on the Wisconsin initiatives.
“Our country’s voter registration system is unfair, antiquated and ill-equipped to serve the next generation of Americans, and efforts to turn back the clock even further are an affront to all citizens.”
Other critics maintain that the tougher stateside requirements target not just youth, but African-Americans, another group that also overwhelmingly votes Democrat. Many African-Americans don’t have passports or drivers’ licences and can’t afford to get them.
The Supreme Court of Georgia recently upheld a state law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls.
But in Arizona, a law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote was struck down late last year by a federal appeals court because it conflicted with the U.S. National Voter Registration Act.
That act was passed in 1993 to streamline voter registration practices across the country. It enables voters to register when they apply for driver’s licences or social services, and allows mail-in registration.
There’s no question America’s voting system isn’t perfect, Levitt says.
But going after young voters — “adults who we trust to do an awful lot, including fighting in the military”— makes next to no sense. Young adults have a right to vote where they live, and if they try to commit electoral fraud, they’ll most certainly be caught under existing laws, he added.
“If anyone attempts to vote in multiple locations, it’s easy to prosecute,” he said.
“You’ve always got a paper trail, you’ve got two different poll books with the same signature and same name, and the penalties under federal law are a potential 10-year prison sentence and a US$10,000 fine. That would seem like a pretty good deterrent.”