Are voter ID laws targeting youth?

By Michael Smith and Christen Simeral, Medill News Service  |  Aug. 14, 2014 at 2:20 PM
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It's hard enough to get voters to pay attention to midterm elections, but a growing number of states have set restrictions on voting that critics say are intended to erect barriers for young people, potentially benefiting Republican candidates.

Since 2010, 22 states have passed laws that make it more difficult to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

North Carolina, which has voted red in nine of the last 10 presidential elections (the exception was Barack Obama's win in 2008) passed a law in 2013 that not only ended same-day voter registration, but also reduced the early-voting period from a 17 days to 10. The state also ended pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds. The program had been in place to help ensure that 18-year-olds were set to vote once they became of legal age.

Republicans , the evidence suggests, would benefit from a decrease in young-voter turnout. According to the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds who casted ballots in the 2012 election voted for Obama. Only 37 percent voted for Mitt Romney.

"Do I think they [Republicans] know what they're doing? The answer is yes," said Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of nonpartisan The Rothenberg Political Report and a columnist for Congressional Quarterly. "They understand there are practical political implications."

Currently, 31 of the 50 states have laws requiring voters to show ID when they vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Eight states have "strict photo ID" laws that only allow voters without ID to cast provisional ballots that require extra effort from the voters to be counted, according to the NCSL. They are Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Indiana, Virginia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia -- all of which voted Republican in the last presidential election.

Ohio has done perhaps the most to make it a chore to vote. One bill passed prevents anyone from filling out even a provisional ballot if they don't have a Social Security number. The Buckeye state also reduced early-voting periods and stopped same-day voter registration.

"All of these [laws] unquestionably makes voting more difficult," said Matthew Segal, the founder of OurTime, a nonprofit aimed at politically empowering young people. "It's a target on would-be Democratic voters." Segal and other critics of the laws have argued that requiring a picture ID may deter people from voting. Supporters say it's an effective way to decrease fraud.

The changes came after last year's Supreme Court ruling that struck down a part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required many Southern states to get federal permission to change voting laws.

"The claim that it will keep young voters out of the coals is a myth" said Hans Van Spakovsky, a former county election official and current senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "There have been voter identification laws for many years."

Van Spakovsky said these measures are to "make sure we have a secure and fair election."

He doesn't think presenting some form of ID is an inconvenience for voters.

The average person "has to have an ID in everyday life for so many reasons," he said.

The percentage of youth voters affiliating with the Democratic Party has increased steadily for more than 20 years. Forty-seven percent of registered voters in 1992 under 30 identified as Republicans, compared with 46 percent saying they were Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center. The percent of that age group registering as Democrats increased with each presidential election, and by 2008, the margin was at 58 to 33 for Democrats.

There is often a dip in voter turnout during midterm elections. In 2008, 57.1 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, according to Pew. But in 2010, only 36.9 percent of voters cast ballots. Two years later, 53.7 percent voted in the 2012 presidential election.

This year's midterm elections may reflect the historic pattern of much reduced turnout, even among young people. But Segal said the restrictive laws may have caught young people's attention.

"When people are told that their rights are taken away," Segal said, "you often see a surge in trying to win those rights back."

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