Commentary: New Hampshire Speaker Seeks to Disenfranchise Students

Proposed legislation wouldn't allow many students to vote in elections.

Posted: 03/15/2011 02:45 AM EDT
vote, voting, New Hampshire

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's effort to strip union workers of their collective bargaining rights, a move that many political observers saw as an attempt to undermine the Democratic Party’s potential voting base. 

And now it seems once again, the radical right-wing elements of the Republican Party are attempting to undermine the potential voting strength of people they feel are not fit to exercise their franchise. This time the move comes from New Hampshire where the state’s Republican Speaker of the House William O’Brien is taking aim at college students. O’Brian is proposing legislation that would make it difficult for the majority of college students in New Hampshire to vote in New Hampshire and prevent others from voting all together.

If passed, these laws would require all New Hampshire college students to have parents who have residency in the state for at least a one year. It would also require all students who don’t meet the residency requirements to vote in the town or state from which they come. Another law would end election-day registration preventing anyone from registering and voting on the day of an election.

O’Brian’s rationale for these drastic measures is, in his mind, simple.  According to him, college students “lack the life experience” needed to make intelligent choices when it comes to voting. Instead of voting for logical candidates like himself and his fellow Republicans, they tend to vote for the candidate of their feelings: “Voting liberal, that’s what kids do,”  O’Brien told a room of Tea Party partisans. I find it extremely interesting that O’Brien wants to limit young people’s franchise rights but didn’t say anything about limiting their rights to serve in the U.S.  military or pay federal and state taxes. 

Although not quite as drastic as New Hampshire’s proposed laws, at least 22 other states including Minnesota, Tennessee and Wisconsin have proposed similar laws that would restrict young people’s right to vote. The Republicans know that a significant portion of Obama’s constituency is students. These young people (many of whom were first-time voters in 2008) believe in progressive social change.

By placing these cumbersome burdens on young voters, the far right hopes to discourage young voters from participating in future elections, thus thwarting the Democrats’ effort to re-elect President Obama and/or re-take the House and Senate in 2012 and beyond.

These political tactics remind me of a despicable time in American history when politicians down South employed legal obstacles such as voter-registration tests and a poll tax to discourage Blacks from exercising their constitutional rights. I don’t know about Speaker O’Brien, but I was taught in my junior high civic class that our right to vote in an open and fair election is the hallmark of our democracy. It is what truly separates us from fascist dictatorship. This is the major reason why we must oppose O’Brien and his ultra-right wing Tea Bagging buddies’ efforts toward election reform. Our democracy may depend on it. 

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