The Nov. 18 front-page article “ Once a GOP lock, Senate race in Miss. tightens up” reported that Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), while chatting with students at Mississippi State University about polling places on campuses, quipped, “There’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that’s a great idea.” The senator said she was joking. But suppressing the youth vote is no laughing matter.
Over the past several years, we have seen Republican-controlled state legislatures make concerted efforts to make it significantly harder for college students to vote by moving polling places, restricting early voting, disallowing college identification cards as valid for voting and redistricting to intentionally dilute the college student vote. These efforts are partisan, unethical and illegal, and some have been successfully challenged in the courts.
But that’s not even the worst of it. Our research shows that voting in college is a foundational experience of civic engagement for millions of young people at a critical time in their development as participants in democracy. Our elected officials should make it easier, not harder, for students to vote. Let’s take our cue from educators who understand and embrace colleges’ and universities’ responsibility to prepare students for lifelong participation in democracy, not from politicians motivated by a desire to win the next election at any cost.
Nancy Thomas, Medford, Mass.
The writer is director of Tisch College's Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University.