Lawmakers introduce new bill to protect youth voting rights

Democratic congressional lawmakers on Thursday announced that they are introducing a bill which seeks to provide protections for young voters.

New Hampshire Rep. Chris Pappas is the lead sponsor of the Protect the Youth Vote Act of 2020, a piece of voting rights legislation meant to prevent age discrimination in voting. The bill is co-sponsored by Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse, Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, New York Rep. Grace Meng, and Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy.

The bill addresses and lays out legal violations to the 26th Amendment — which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote — in an attempt to help improve transparency around voter suppression tactics. Across the country, young voters face a number of barriers at the state level, including strict same-day voter registration and voter ID laws. Additionally, polling sites have been left off certain college campuses and universities.

In the bill, Pappas cites the prevention of in-person early voting sites on university and college campuses in Florida, a challenge to a Michigan voting law that required first-time voters to register by mail and voter suppression tactics targeted at students on HBCU campuses.

Pappas had been working on the bill in response to challenges in New Hampshire and the rest of the country that predate — and are now exacerbated by — the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Those who work in the public trust should protect the right to vote, not make it harder for Americans to cast a ballot and make their voices heard. Yet in too many places across the country voting rights are under attack,” Pappas in a Thursday morning release. ” …We have a profound responsibility to encourage the next generation to participate in our democracy and ensure our government is truly of, by, and for the people.”

Pappas noted that while laws affecting young voters could undermine turnout, such requirements also have long-term ramifications. Research shows voting is a habit that needs to be learned through practice.

Gallego also addressed the potential future consequences.

“Our voting rights are under attack and efforts to disenfranchise youth could have lasting effects for decades to come,” Gallego said in the release.

According to the ACLU, six in 10 college students come from out of state to attend school in New Hampshire.

Phillip Dragone, a 21-year-old senior at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire and the president of St. Anselm College Democrats, served as a plaintiff in a case that challenged a state law that required proof of residency for voters registering within 30 days of or on Election Day, which affected many college students. The law, which went into effect in 2017 as a means to prevent voter fraud, was struck down in April.

Dragone, who is originally from neighboring Massachusetts, lived in a college dorm on St. Anselm’s campus and was therefore unable to provide a bill or lease to certify that he lived at the address of his college dorm when registering for the 2018 midterms.

“It really made me feel like there was a concerted effort to reduce turnout for college students in the state of New Hampshire, which I don’t think is OK,” Dragone said.

Dragone said there are stresses to being a student and the additional stress of figuring out how to register to vote and confusing language with voting legislation seem to him like tactics meant to reduce voter turnout.

According to the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts, Wisconsin also has a sizable number of students who make up its voting population. In 2018, according to the institute, college students made up 6.9% of the state’s voting population.

And while researchers have said Wisconsin is the No. 1 state where the youth vote could matter most in 2020, it’s not easy for young voters to cast their ballots there.

Wisconsin has a strict voter ID law, and in order for a student ID to be accepted at the polls in the state, the ID must have the registered voters’ name, signature, photo, date of issue and a date of expiration within two years of the issuing date. Not all student IDs automatically include all of this information.

While students in Wisconsin are permitted to use an expired student ID because of a court order, the ID must still have the dates of issuance and expiration to be considered an acceptable form of identification.

In addition, all students must also provide proof of their college or university enrollment when they go to vote.

To register to vote in Wisconsin in the first place, citizens already are required to provide proof of residency.

Recognizing the difficulty students who want to vote face in Wisconsin, Common Cause Wisconsin, Fair Elections Center and others teamed up to file a lawsuit against Wisconsin’s requirements for student IDs used as voter ID in 2019. The suit is pending before a judge in the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

The lawsuit is centered around the fact that the law requires the student ID to have a date of issuance and expiration, despite the fact that the ID can be expired.

“Technical and really vestigial requirements still have to be on the ID card, even though they serve no function, they serve no purpose,” Jon Sherman, senior counsel at the Fair Elections Center, said.

Sherman said students in Wisconsin must go through “traps and hoops” in order to vote.

“What’s really galling about how severely restrictive the voter ID law requirements are for students, how many traps and hoops that are for them to navigate, is that Wisconsin has the most restrictive voting regime overall, and basically the whole country, in order to vote there,” he said.