In states, parties clash over voting laws that would affect college students, others
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 10:41 AM
New Hampshire's new Republican state House speaker is pretty clear about what he thinks of college kids and how they vote. They're "foolish," Speaker William O'Brien said in a recent speech to a tea party group.
"Voting as a liberal. That's what kids do," he added, his comments taped by a state Democratic Party staffer and posted on YouTube. Students lack "life experience," and "they just vote their feelings."
New Hampshire House Republicans are pushing for new laws that would prohibit many college students from voting in the state - and effectively keep some from voting at all.
One bill would permit students to vote in their college towns only if they or their parents had previously established permanent residency there - requiring all others to vote in the states or other New Hampshire towns they come from. Another bill would end Election Day registration, which O'Brien said unleashes swarms of students on polling places, creating opportunities for fraud.
The measures in New Hampshire are among dozens of voting-related bills being pushed by newly empowered Republican state lawmakers across the country - prompting partisan clashes akin to those already roiling in some states over GOP moves to curb union power.
Backers of the voting measures say they would bring fairness and restore confidence in a voting system vulnerable to fraud. Many states, for instance, do not require identification to vote. Measures being proposed in 32 states would add an ID requirement or proof of citizenship, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
"I want to know when I walk into the poll that they know I am who I say I am and that nobody else has said that they are me," said North Carolina state Rep. Ric Killian (R), who is preparing to introduce legislation that would require voters to show a photo ID at the polls.
Democrats charge that the real goal, as with anti-union measures in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere, is simply to deflate the power of core Democratic voting blocs - in this case young people and minorities. For all the allegations of voter fraud, Democrats and voting rights groups say, there is scant evidence to show that it is a problem.
"It's a war on voting," said Thomas Bates, vice president of Rock the Vote, a youth voter- registration group mounting a campaign to fight the array of state measures. "We'd like to be advocating for a 21st-century voting system, but here we are fighting against efforts to turn it back to the 19th century."
The debate over voter fraud has become a perennial issue since the contested 2000 presidential election. While limited by federal law and court rulings, states have authority over how they run elections. Although elections officials say there are occasional cases of fraud, experts say the battle lines are drawn largely along deeply partisan - and largely theoretical - lines.
"Election policy debates like photo ID and same-day registration have become so fierce around the country because they are founded more on passionate belief than proven fact," said Doug Chapin, an election-law expert at the Pew Center on the States. "One side is convinced fraud is rampant; the other believes that disenfranchisement is widespread. Neither can point to much in the way of evidence to support their position, so they simply turn up the volume."
Implications for 2012
The disputes are taking on national implications. Several states where newly empowered Republicans are pushing voter legislation, such as New Hampshire, Wisconsin and North Carolina, are expected to be battlegrounds in the 2012 presidential race. Democrats say the voters most likely to be affected are core pieces of President Obama's base.