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Samah Pirzada: Students should take action against restrictive voter ID laws

By Samah Pirzada

Jul. 21, 2014 12:00 am

College students across the nation are rising up against Republican-sponsored voter ID laws, which are making the process of voting harder and decreasing young voter participation rates.

Many civil rights groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Advancement Project, based in Washington, D.C., are up in arms about these laws, claiming that they discriminate against blacks, Latinos and those of low socioeconomic status. These groups are often the ones without the required state-issued identification to vote under the new laws.

But recently, students too have been fighting these laws, which disproportionately affect young voters, especially young people of color.

A growing number of states are instituting strict photo ID laws at the polling booths, and many of them don’t count university-issued identification or out-of-state IDs. These laws present an unfair and unnecessary obstacle for college-aged people to get to the polls. But if students at the University of California and elsewhere lobby against the implementation of these laws wherever they crop up, we can prevent them from becoming the standard across the nation.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, some of the 31 states with voter ID laws in place plan on making them even stricter than they already are in terms of what voters will have to present to be eligible to vote.

A North Carolina law that will be implemented in 2016, the year of the next presidential election, is one of the most troubling laws to students. Voters will need to show a government-issued ID, which could come in the form of military or veteran ID cards. But school-issued IDs and out-of-state IDs, in most cases, do not qualify under the new law.

Getting rid of these growing restrictions is particularly important considering how difficult it already is to get young people to the polls. Just between the 2008 and 2012 elections, there was a 6 percent drop in voters between the ages of 18 and 29. Organizations like Rock The Vote were created for the sole purpose of encouraging students and young people to vote. But their efforts are largely moot if there are institutional roadblocks in place that make it more difficult for young people to vote.

California does not have a strict voter ID law, but it is still important for students at the UC to take action against the discrimination student voters are facing in other states. National higher education issues like federal student loan debt and college affordability band our interests together and make voting restrictions to students in one state relevant to students nationally.

Aret Frost, president of Bruin Democrats and a fourth-year political science student, said one way California students can play a role in the debate is by using social media platforms to get the word out about the issue of voter ID laws.

“We can change public perception if college students come out and say this isn’t right,” he said.

Many Democrats claim that the laws are merely Republican attempts to disenfranchise voters who tend to vote for Democratic candidates. In 2008, the Obama campaign targeted student voters, and it paid off. Limiting the student vote could have serious effects on the outcome of an election.

But Republicans say the law is not meant to discriminate against certain voters. Rather, they argue, the laws can prevent voter fraud and double voting by out-of-state residents. For example, it would prevent an out-of-state student from submitting a ballot in both his or her home state and the state in which his or her school is located.

The problem with this argument, however, is that there haven’t been any reports of widespread voting fraud.

“(The law) is really about voter suppression,” said Cynthia Lebow, a lecturer in the UCLA political science department, in an email. “(It’s about) the suppression of the African American vote in Southern states, suppression of the Latino vote in states like Texas and Florida and the suppression of other Democratic leaning groups, likely students or the elderly.”

And the laws also present a real obstacle for students who cannot go to the DMV and spend money on an ID card they wouldn’t need otherwise. Between juggling work, class and extracurricular activities, often without a reliable mode of transportation, students may not be able to make it to the DMV on a weekday to get their ID issued.

The bottom line is that voter ID laws are unnecessarily restrictive. Making it difficult for students to vote inhibits the democratic process and the ability of the people who live in this country to actively participate in it.

Send general comments to [email protected] or tweet us @DBOpinion.

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