The bad news is that many Republican lawmakers all across the country are doing everything possible to not just stop this trend but to turn it around and not with a persuasive argument but through voter suppression. Intentionally making voting more difficult should not be a surprise, as we have long experienced issues like limited voting places in key areas to create long lines and wait time that can discourage voters. These strategies are all designed to help elect Republicans who struggle to appeal to a broad cross section of the electorate. Apparently, for at least some Republican lawmakers, making it more difficult for some voters to practice their right, just makes common sense if it will help them get re-elected or pass special interest legislation that Republicans support.
In general, today’s state action driven by Republicans to reduce student voting focuses on reducing and in some cases eliminating early voting sites, adding various voter ID requirements and restrictions, making use of student ID cards as difficult as possible, and on election day, not having any voting opportunities on campus. Some would say that this behavior is just politics and everyone does it. Aside from this being untrue, it is certainly not the American way to limit voter participation after all the years of work to get the vote for women and eliminate many restrictions designed to limit certain folks from voting.
We’ve been through voter challenges in Kansas with the reign of Secretary of State Kris Kobach and his agenda of voter suppression. Hid under the guise of detecting election fraud, he did everything he could to limit certain populations from voting, voters that he concluded would vote the wrong way. This in particular included students. At the height of his voter ID law, during the 2014 elections, I recall visiting with students here in Manhattan who did not have the required documents with them at college, such as a birth certificate, which was required in order to fully register and participate in Kansas elections. Many of these restrictions have since been paused or struck down in court, which has allowed for the full registration process to be completed online. And, after years of Kobach’s efforts, there was very little if any evidence of election fraud found. Almost all of his examples were new residents of Kansas that were not always aware of our different policies. Now he is running as a candidate for the United States Senate, and given his track record, I would expect him to, if elected, continue his cause and at the same time show no concern about Russian interference or the serious election infrastructure and security issues that need to be addressed in our national elections.
Kobach’s replacement as Secretary of State, also a Republican I must add, appears so far to want to increase voter participation, which I commend. Riley County, Kansas has a very professional County Clerk, who happens to be a Republican, running elections who is outstanding in his efforts toward encouraging voting. There are good examples at the local level of folks taking access to the vote seriously, and working to promote it among people no matter their background or political stripes. And, with the courts striking down many of Kobach's restrictions, access to the vote has improved in Kansas, and so has youth participation. All of this is cause for optimism, and I sincerely hope these trends can continue.
Surely this should transcend partisanship; more people involved in our electoral process is a very good thing for our system of government, especially at a time when the values and ideals of democracy are being tested at home and around the world.
If we give a damn about the future and the challenges we face like climate change, we will work hard to stop voter suppression policies and open up more access to the vote, not less. We desperately need young people’s participation in elections to bring a more balanced look at what needs to be done and policies to improve society and the environment for the long term. Making it difficult for young people to vote is just crazy and short-sighted.