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« The Economy Should Work For Us, and We for the Economy | Main | Facing the Facts: New York Points the Way »

Voter Protection Key to Legislation Today

By Sarah Burris
July 31, 2008

At a time when organizations across the country are focused on increasing voter registration, the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE) has worked hard to make sure that when those newly registered voters go to the polls, their votes will count.

Today the movement to protect our votes will take a giant leap forward when SAVE teamed up with Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Congresswoman Jan Shakowsky of Illinois and Congressman Steve LaTourette of Ohio present the Student VOTER Bill of 2008.

Durbin said on the floor:

"The success of America’s experiment in democracy lies in broad participation and deep civic engagement. From the Reconstruction Amendments, to women’s suffrage, to the abolition of the poll tax, and finally the ratification of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, we have witnessed a steady but difficult march toward a more inclusive nation. To realize the full potential of these great strides, the Student VOTER Act provides a pathway to participation for America’s youth."
SAVE has worked non-stop for 4 years as a national non-partisan, non-profit with a mission to increase youth voter participation by removing access barriers and promoting stronger civic education. They constantly lobby Congress and the Senate in efforts to ensure that the right to vote is accessible to young people and that those votes are protected.

"Voter protection is personal to me," said Director and Founder Matt Segal earlier this summer in an interview. He began SAVE after standing in line for more than 12 hours on election day in 2004 to help encourage his fellow students who stood in the cold and rain just to cast a ballot.

"We held umbrellas, we brought them pizza, we got them excused from class so they wouldn't lose their places in line, we did everything we could to ensure everyone who wanted to vote got to vote. Voting is our right, that should never happen again."
Segal says he applauds Senator Durbin and Representatives Schakowsky and LaTourette for their leadership and attention to student voter turnout and the barriers students face when voting.
"All the while many congressional members pay lip service to the idea of increasing civic engagement, it is refreshing to see these members act, and call on our education institutions to be more proactive in getting student signed up and aware of the laws in their various states and districts."
Young voters face some of the most difficult obstacles when it comes to going to the polls.

The Higher Education Act of 1998 was passed in efforts to increase youth participation in elections by requiring that U.S. colleges and universities make a "good faith effort" to register students to vote. This could easily be done at a student orientation or during class registration. But it isn't.

Durbin continued to say on the Senate floor:

"Several obstacles stand in the way of youth voting. Because so many students are first time voters, they often are unfamiliar with how to register. In some states, first time voters must register in person in order to cast an absentee ballot. For students who attend college outside of their home state or who do not have access to transportation, these requirements can be cumbersome, confusing, and insurmountable."
Many schools forget about that civic duty. When that happens the partisan groups move in to fill the gap, fighting it out between College Republicans and Young Democrats the groups debate and register students off campus and on. But the result is that some students who remain undecided and independent can become alienated by the partisanship.

The bill would amend existing laws that say colleges would have to be like the Department of Motor Vehicles, which is supposed to ask folks if they want to register or re-register to vote when they get their driver's license or public assistance benefits. The new law would make state colleges and universities abide by that rule. So now, new students would be asked if they wanted to register when they sign up for classes, or get a new student ID for example.

The Student VOTER Bill of 2008 seeks to institutionalize the distribution of voting procedure and register more young people. SAVE's bill will apply a much more up to date standard to the existing 1994 "Motor Voter Act." This can help state colleges and universities, and ensure that all students will have their votes counted.

Forty-four million young people (ages 18-29) will be eligible to vote this November and with the help of the House and Senate, we can move forward to stop disenfranchisement this election year.

Comments (1)

Walden P. Author Profile Page:

The best news is the boon in youth voter registration this year. If nothing else happens beyond what the polls are telling us will happen in November, Sen. Obama will hold the legacy of re-invigorating the youth vote. In the 1970s, the rate of active voters between the ages of 18 and 24 was fifty percent. Now, it is less than 20%.

This is partially due to the fact that young people in Generation X, and whatever the Millennium Generation is called, were raised in an environment that had been concentrated for years with the outlandishness of both sides of the aisle - liberal-branded, tree-hugging, pinko, commie hippie Democrats and gun-toting, anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-intellectual redneck Republicans - that they never realized that there was a large group in the middle.

The words "compromise" and "devil's advocate" meant nothing. Words like "opponent" had been replaced with words like "enemy" and "degenerate." Sen. Obama has reached into the middle and pulled the youth out.

Protecting these new voters is not hard, actually. I registered to vote at university registration the summer before my freshman year of college. I didn't know a lot about what was going on, but I knew who I liked and why I liked them. Even to this day, I rarely vote down a straight party ticket. The key to protecting these voters is making sure they have a choice. And that means that politicians have to become statesmen, gentlemen, and leaders again - not the faces of extremism and the enemy. The only way to protect these young voters is to continue giving them a choice, and a choice that is more than just the liberal left and the conservative right.

It's like an old story that young voters need to hear. Fifty years ago, there was a freshman Congressman who walked into the Democratic cloakroom one day. He asked one of the senior Democrats, "Where are the Republicans? I want to see the enemy." After taking a sip of his coffee, the senior Democrat looks at the young man and says, "The Republicans aren't the enemy. They're the opposition. The Senate's the enemy." We've been waiting for those days again, and they are now here. If politicians want to grab a large, unaffiliated voter bloc, they'll figure that out.

The key is giving these young people choice. That's the best protection in the world.

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