I t will come as a surprise to no one that college-aged students vote less frequently than members of their parents’ generation. This tendency is particularly pronounced during midterm election years. In 2012, more than half of North Carolinians between the ages of 18 and 29 voted. In 2010, less than one fourth of the same cohort cast a ballot .
Yet 2014 is not a midterm like any other. This year, forces largely outside of students’ control are conspiring to make it harder for them to vote. To defend their franchise, their education and their futures, it is imperative that students vote in November.
Younger voters are less acculturated in the habits of voting and tend to be comparatively uninformed about the state and local issues up for vote during midterm cycles. But North Carolina’s Republican Party does not seem content to let these forces do their natural damage on youth turnout.
This November, thanks to the GOP’s new voter ID law, which was ostensibly intended to reduce the imaginary problem of voter fraud, students will have fewer opportunities to vote early and will not be able to benefit from same-day registration, straight-ticket party voting, out-of-precinct voting or pre-voter registration.
The final change is particularly galling. In the past, North Carolina allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to register to vote, but no longer. In a healthy democracy, voting is a right and is encouraged as a compelling state interest.
While the infamous requirement that all voters possess a government-issued identity card will not go into effect until 2016, these changes have been more than sufficient to sow confusion among the student body. Some students think they cannot vote if they lack the ID; others mistakenly believe that they are barred from voting if they are from out of state. It strains credulity to contend that state Republicans did not anticipate their “reforms” would obfuscate students’ rights and suppress turnout.
Nor does Raleigh have a monopoly on this malfeasance. This summer, the Orange County Board of Elections voted along party lines not to extend Sunday voting hours, despite hearing ample feedback from students, working class voters and congregations, all of whom said they would benefit from expanded weekend voting.
Disparaging students for their ignorance and lack of political involvement is easy; sacrificing a partisan advantage for the sake of democracy would be extraordinarily difficult. Students should not hold their breath waiting for their elected officials to see the light. Instead, they must proactively work to get themselves registered and get to the polls come November.