Commentary: Young People Hurt By Voter ID Laws, Too

If voter ID laws are allowed to stand, some states could see voter turnouts among young people at rates lower than in 2004 and 2008.

Posted: 09/14/2012 03:47 PM EDT

It’s been nice to see that some of the Draconian voter ID laws Republicans are attempting to install to block minority voters come November are being struck down. But despite the backlash from citizens and civil rights organizations, more than a dozen attempts at voter suppression still stand. It’s such a problem, in fact, that Rep. John Lewis spent a good chunk of his speech at the Democratic National Convention decrying the tactic. As BET’s Jonathan P. Hicks reported:

“Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting,” the Georgia Congressman said. “They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania House even bragged that his state's new voter ID law is ‘gonna allow Gov. [Mitt] Romney to win the state.’ That's not right. That's not fair. That's not just.”

While many voter ID law opponents have focused on the problems the elderly are going to have circumventing the restrictions, few have focused on what the laws mean for young people. While young eligible voters tend to get to the polls less often than their older counterparts, that’s no reason to turn a blind eye toward young voter suppression. And a new study seeks to get the message out that young people could indeed be very suppressed this election if these voter ID laws are allowed to stand.

The study, titled “Turning Back the Clock on Voting Rights: The Impact of New Photo Identification Requirements on Young People of Color” [PDF], co-authored by University of Chicago political science professor Cathy Cohen, is an in-depth look at what codified disenfranchisement could mean for minority young people. The results, while not surprising, are saddening:

Our estimates indicate that overall levels of turnout among young people of color are likely to be reduced by large numbers — between 538,000 and 696,000 in total — in the states that have passed these laws, perhaps falling below 2004 and 2008 levels.

Exacerbating the fact that almost 700,000 young voters of color, the majority of whom would almost certainly vote for Obama, could be barred from polling places is that the researchers say the laws would be significantly damaging in “battleground” states such as Pennsylvania and Florida, where the race is tight and the electoral college votes are crucial.

It’s important to develop a habit of voting at an early age. But when society puts laws in front of kids barring them from voting, what sort of message are we sending about their worth when it comes participating in democracy?

 

These views do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

 

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(Photo: John Ricard / BET)

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