March 23, 2011- The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative organization linked to corporate and right-wing donors, including the billionaire Koch brothers, has drafted and distributed model legislation, obtained by Campus Progress, that appears to be the inspiration for bills proposed by state legislators this year and promoted by Tea Party activists, bills that would limit access of young people to vote.
ALEC describes itself as a "nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty."
In Wisconsin, where public attention now is focused on Gov. Scott Walker's (R) efforts to undermine the rights of workers to engage in collective bargaining, there is another piece of proposed legislation that could have a substantial negative impact on the state's young and minority voters. Conservative representatives in the state have proposed a law, backed by Walker, that would ban students from using in-state university- or college-issued IDs for proof-of-residency when voting. If this legislation became law, it would become one of the strictest voter registration laws in the country and would provide significant logistical and financial barriers for a variety of groups, including student and minority voters.
Meanwhile, as Campus Progress reported last month, in New Hampshire, state House Speaker William O'Brien (R- Hillsborough 4) says that proposed election legislation will "tighten up the definition of a New Hampshire resident." O'Brien claims that college towns experience hundreds of same-day voter registrations and that those are the ballots of people who "are kids voting liberal, voting their feelings, with no life experience."
Unfortunately, the examples in Wisconsin and New Hampshire are not isolated incidents. They are part of a disturbing trend of states with new conservative majorities that are attempting to pass laws that would disenfranchise student and minority voters. Some of the legislation is strikingly similar to model legislation drafted by ALEC [PDF].
Rather than seeking to persuade young voters on the issues, these conservatives are aiming to restrict access to voting through draconian measures. Their efforts are raising the ire of College Democrats and College Republicans alike. The president of the College Republicans at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Richard Sunderland, tells Campus Progress that the GOP should focus on bringing "younger students into the fold as Republicans, as opposed to this, which seems like more of an attack."
Sunderland adds that while he is a Republican, "The way I see the lines here, is we are students and first and foremost. As students, this is attacking our right to vote."
According to research by the Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN) and Campus Progress, in the past six years, seven states have enacted laws that disenfranchise students or make it more difficult for them to vote. This year, 18 additional states are considering similar laws, while other states are proposing voter ID laws that would depress turnout among other groups of voters — particularly those who traditionally lean left.
These requirements run the gamut from requiring in-state driver's licenses, to banning school IDs, to prohibiting first-time voters — essentially every college-aged voter — from voting by absentee ballot. All together, these barriers create new logistical and financial barriers for many people attempting to vote.