Oh, those pesky young people. They’re "foolish." They "just vote their feelings" and they don’t have any "life experience."
At least, that’s the assessment of New Hampshire’s new state House Speaker, William O’Brien, whose address to Tea Party movement activists was captured by a Democratic staffer, posted on YouTube, and reported in the Washington Post. The Granite State’s Republicans are pushing for new laws that would prohibit many of New Hampshire’s college students from voting in the state—or even at all, the Post reports.
Why should the GOP, heady after its stunning victories last fall, stop there in thwarting the voting rights of demographic groups which lean Democratic? How about those senior citizens—are they too addled and out of touch to be allowed to vote? Or those labor union members—are they under the mind control of their leadership? (Oops, no worries there, as GOP governors and state legislatures are working to bust public employee unions already). [Vote now: Should union supporters or Gov. Scott Walker blink first?]
The arguments against student voting persist, even decades after the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s "old enough to fight, old enough to vote" mantra helped bring the voting age down to 18. They were made when I was in college in Albany in the 1980s. Students don’t vote; they’re apathetic, said some state legislators. (really? Then why are they such a threat?) Students don’t really live in their college communities, they’re rooted back in their parents’ districts (not so much; students live in their college communities at least nine months out of the year, and some of us lived there year-round and never returned to our parents’ home cities). But the underlying premise was that students somehow weren’t really citizens of any jurisdiction, least of all the college community where they lived (although I certainly lived in Albany, had a part-time job, and paid taxes on my paltry income there).
That was especially astonishing, considering the fact that we students—including those who lived in dormitories—were practically held down and handed a pen to fill out our U.S. Census forms, placing us firmly in the city and county of Albany. That meant the locality and state would get federal aid based on a population count that included students. It’s more than a little disingenuous to demand cash for hosting student residents, while denying those citizens the right to vote on how it’s spent. [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
Young people do lack certain life experience. That’s a good argument for not sending them off to war. Yet I don’t hear elected officials arguing for new laws barring college-aged people from serving in the military.
Elected officials in all parties wield substantial power, but there’s one day they cede it to the masses, and that is Election Day. If candidates want students’ votes, they’re going to have to earn them.