The Hidden Fight Over the YOUTH VOTE.

AuthorGrise, Chrisanne
PositionELECTION 2020

Some states are making it harder for students to cast ballots in 2020. What's going on?

When freshman Maggie Flaherty arrived at Dartmouth College in 2017, registering to vote was one of the first things she did. Originally from California, she knew she'd be spending most of her time in New Hampshire and was excited to get involved in the politics there.

Registering to vote was an easy process, thanks to an on-campus event hosted by both college Democrats and Republicans. But it wasn't long before things got complicated.

This past fall, a law took effect requiring new voters in the state to get New Hampshire driver's licenses and auto registrations. Supporters say it will prevent voter fraud and voting by people who aren't really residents of the state. College students, in particular, they say, often don't remain after they graduate, so they shouldn't be considered residents for voting purposes.

"Currently, an individual who ... does not have any real intention of making New Hampshire their home may vote in our elections while avoiding the obligations that all other residents must meet," Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, said in 2018.

But critics argue that these fees are the equivalent of a poll tax, as a new license costs $50 and vehicle registration can cost hundreds. This law, they say, is an attempt to suppress the votes of college students who are trying to register in their new homes.

The story in New Hampshire is just one example of a political drama playing out nationwide: After decades of treating elections as an afterthought, college students have begun voting in force. Their turnout in the 2018 midterms was 40 percent, more than double the rate from the 2014 midterms. Energized by issues like climate change and gun violence, students have suddenly emerged as a potentially crucial voting bloc in the 2020 general election. And more than two-thirds of them in 2018 voted for Democrats, according to exit polling data.

In many states, students are starting to run into roadblocks, often put in place by Republican lawmakers. In addition to viewing students as non-residents, officials say they're raising barriers to election fraud. But Democrats argue that no evidence of widespread fraud in any recent elections has come to light. And some Republicans haven't tried to hide their motivations; as early as 2011, New Hampshire's Republican House speaker, William O'Brien, promised to clamp down on unrestricted voting by students, calling...

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