With an unprecedented number of youth voters participating in the Democratic primary this season, Anna Martínez–the Democratic National Committee’s Deputy Political Director for Voter Protection– says, “We must be aware of the voting rights issues that are disproportionately affecting young voters.”
The party also needs to be aware of these issues because young voters–largely due to the success of the Obama campaign–have become a vital part of the Democratic base. Indeed a new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows young people aligning with Democrats over Republicans by 58 to 33 percent–more than twice the 11-point gap that existed in 2004. The numbers suggest that this election could be a realignment that increases the Democratic majority in Congress, helps win the presidency, and continues the power shift at the state and local levels.
In the lead-up to today’s Indiana and North Carolina primaries, I spoke with Martínez about what the DNC is doing to harness student energy and protect their votes. She told me that young voters are often adversely impacted by election administration issues, “whether it’s inadvertent, failure of election officials to plan well, poor poll worker training – or in some cases, deliberate obstacles…. These issues all reflect the need for our Youth Voting Rights Institute (YVRI).” Given what we know about past efforts to tamp down student participation, it’s clear that the YVRI has a vital role to play in fighting back against any efforts to curb youth enthusiasm.
Certainly the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Indiana’s regressive voter ID law is one thing that will keep students from the polls. Under this law, a student at a state university may be able to use school identification in order to vote, but a student at a private institution such as Notre Dame will not. An out of state driver’s license along with an in-state utility bill won’t suffice either, as it would in most states. Many students who had successfully registered will be turned away today when they learn that their identification doesn’t cut it. It’s likely that others who had planned on voting but are now aware of the new restrictions simply won’t show up.