Op-Ed: Vote now or never! ... Really?
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 16:02
In these days of extreme political hyperbole, such a stark warning seems more of the same. But I don’t think “Vote Now or Never” is much of an overstatement, and I feel every student should be equally concerned about the ability of students to vote in the future.
We think “One person, one vote” is the basis of our democracy, but it wasn’t always so. It wasn’t until 1972 that the United States Supreme Court ruled that every full-time college student in the United States had an absolute constitutional right to choose whether to vote either where the student’s home was or where he or she went to college. Until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, African American voters were hampered by various Jim Crow laws, combinations of literacy and comprehension tests, and residency and record-keeping requirements. American women didn’t get full voting privileges until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. And before 1792, there was no country where “universal suffrage” meant anything more than allowing votes from men with sufficient economic property.
This year in New Hampshire, students with a University ID can vote in Durham. (Do bring some proof of citizenship and a dorm or utility receipt). This is essentially how it has been, at least since I joined UNH in 2001. I’ve taken off work every election day to drive students to and from the polls. But two years ago, apathy dominated. I’d drive back and forth to the polls with just one or two students each trip. As a result of the apathy here and an equivalent lack of concern throughout the state, there was a major reconfiguration of the political alignment of the New Hampshire State House and Senate.
Students this year need to recognize that the current Republican State Legislature has worked hard to restrict student voting by enacting a series of thinly veiled modern “Jim-Crow-like” restrictions. If left unchanged after this election, these restrictions will inhibit student voting participation in every subsequent election.
After two aborted attempts earlier in the legislative session, the State Legislature passed two bills with a sufficient margin to overturn Governor Lynch’s veto. Initially, Senate Bill 289 and now Senate Bill 318 will effectively restrict in-Durham voting rights to those who have established in-town permanent residency. Those laws are not in effect for next Tuesday’s election only because a Strafford County Superior Court judge recently overturned SB 318 for this election.
“No other state singles out students or any other group for special voting residency requirements,” noted the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law. “And for good reason; such a discriminatory rule clearly violates the U.S. Constitution.”
The anti-student bias of the current Legislative leadership was actually caught on tape. The Speaker of the N.H. House told a Tea Party group that he supported the voting restrictions because students tend to vote Democratic. He said, “The kids [are] coming out of the school and basically doing what I did when I was a kid. Voting as a liberal. You know, that’s what kids do. They don’t have life experience and they just vote their feelings.”
The good news is that the anti-student bias of the current Legislature is reversible. I look forward to again spending the day driving students to the polls and fervently hope more of you will take advantage of the opportunity than was the case two years ago.
This time, the ability of students to vote in the future is clearly at stake. And your vote, or failure to vote, will matter.
Robert S. Woodward, Ph.D, is a McKerly Professor of Health Economics at UNH.