Is ALEC Leading GOP's Charge to Suppress the Youth Vote?
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Apr 06, 2011 at 12:45:44 PM EST
Nearly forty years after a constitutional amendment conferring voting rights on eighteen year-olds was passed into law, and signed by President Richard Nixon, the American Legislative Exchange Council is doing all it can to make it difficult for young people to vote.

Nearly forty years after a Constitutional Amendment giving 18-21 year-olds the right to vote, Republican legislators across the country are trying to disenfranchise youth under the subterfuge of combatting "voter fraud." However, as Christina Francisco-McGuire recently pointed out at, instances of *voter fraud "are so rare that one is more likely to be struck by lightening." Amongst the legislation being pushed in various states are photo id requirements, the abandonment of election-day registration, and the redefining of student residency requirements.

The shadowy world of ALEC

"The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative organization linked to corporate and right-wing donors, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, see "Smart ALEC: Dragging the Secretive Conservative Organization Out of the Shadows" -- has drafted and distributed model legislation, obtained by Campus Progress, that appears to be the inspiration for bills proposed by state legislators this year and promoted by Tea Party activists, bills that would limit access of young people to vote," Tobin Van Ostern reported in Campus Progress in early March ("Conservative Corporate Advocacy Group ALEC Behind Voter Disenfranchisement Efforts" -- y_group_alec_behind_voter_disenfranchise).

Van Ostern wrote: "According to research by the Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN) and Campus Progress, in the past six years, seven states have enacted laws that disenfranchise students or make it more difficult for them to vote. This year, 18 additional states are considering similar laws, while other states are proposing voter ID laws that would depress turnout among other groups of voters -- particularly those who traditionally lean left.

"These requirements run the gamut from requiring in-state driver's licenses, to banning school IDs, to prohibiting first-time voters - essentially every college-aged voter - from voting by absentee ballot. All together, these barriers create new logistical and financial barriers for many people attempting to vote."

Van Ostern's investigation found that "Many of the state proposals appear to stem from model legislation known as the Voter ID Act (also known as Photo ID) that was developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

"In a 2009 public report [ l_legislation.pdf], ALEC described Voter ID legislation as "proactive" and offered up examples of states successfully passing the legislation as providing 'a helpful guide' for other states to follow."

When Campus Progress tried to get copies of ALEC's model legislation, it was rebuffed by the organization. Van Ostern pointed out that "ALEC spokesperson Raegan Weber emailed, 'Model legislation is a privilege of membership and therefore we don't provide this publicly'" According to Van Ostern, this is "a somewhat unusual practice by a non-profit public policy group organized under the Internal Revenue Service code as a 501(c)(3) charitable or educational group; most such organizations make public most fruits of their labors, rather than concealing it from people who aren't members."

In a story headlined "N.H. bill intended to block youth vote" (The University of Tennessee's The Daily Beacon, March 29, 2011), Elliott Devore pointed out that the goal of New Hampshire's House Bill 176 "is to alter the eligibility of voter registration within the state by changing the definition of domicile" ( mar/29/nh-bill-intended-block-youth-vote/).

Rep. Gregory Sorg, who introduced the New Hampshire bill, said that students were "transient inmates ... with a dearth of experience and a plethora of the easy self-confidence that only ignorance and inexperience can produce." He added that the bill will end "unfair domination of local elections by students."

Devore reported that William O'Brien, the Republican New Hampshire state house speaker, "was quoted in reference to college students at a recent Tea Party event saying, 'voting as a liberal. That's what kids do. ... Students lack 'life experience,' and they just vote their feelings.'"

1971: Voting age lowered to include those 18-21

"Forty years ago this week," Real Clear Politics' Carl M. Cannon reported on March 25th, "the House of Representatives, on an overwhelming bipartisan vote, sent a proposed constitutional amendment to the states to lower the voting age in this country to 18. ... Two weeks earlier, the Senate passed it 94-0; and the measure that became the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified by the states in record time.

"By Independence Day, it was the law of the land, and at a July 5, 1971 White House signing ceremony, President Nixon gazed on a sea of handpicked young faces and proclaimed, 'The reason I believe that your generation, the 11 million new voters, will do so much for America at home is that you will infuse into this nation some idealism, some courage, some stamina, some high moral purpose that this country always needs.'"

The battle for the youth vote had begun.

Youth generally favor Democrats

Cannon pointed out that while Republicans swept to victory in 2010, "Democratic candidates outpolled Republicans among under-30 voters by 16 percentage points in 2010. This was half the margin it had been two years ago - and turnout among young voters was lower."

ABC News reported last week that according to a new poll released at the end of March by Harvard University's Institute of Politics, located at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, "President Obama's job approval rating among an important voting bloc -- 18-29 year-olds -- rose to 55 percent, a six percentage point uptick since last October."

According to the Institute's Press Release ( ring_poll_11_release.pdf), "The President's job approval rating among students on four-year college campuses - now 60% - increased even more (nine percentage points) over the same period."

Many political observers believe that it was the youth vote that turned the tide for Barack Obama in November 2008. In its report on the Harvard poll Politico pointed out that, "in 2008, nearly 70 percent of voters ages 29 and younger voted for Obama - the highest share of youth votes ever won by a candidate, according to exit polls."

However, according to the analysis of Arizona State University assistant professor of political science, Matthew Hindman, writing in The Arizona Republic a few days after the election, "In one sense, young voters were less important than some predicted. The anticipated 'wave' of youth voting was mostly submerged in the election's general tide of high participation. Youth turnout rose but at a rate only slightly faster than that of other age groups."

Nevertheless, Hindman noted that, "amidst all the other stirring Election Day images, it was surprising to see thousands of Pennsylvania college students standing in line to cast their ballots as soon as the polls opened at 7 a.m."

It doesn't take a political scientist to recognize that if young voters were to turn out in great numbers - for any election - it is highly likely there will be a favorable outcome for Democratic Party candidates. Hindman pointed out that, "if younger voters continue to turn out at this rate, it is terrible news for the Republican Party. The youngest voters are markedly more left-leaning than the Generation Xers who preceded them. They are certainly more liberal than their own parents."

In light of this, what is the best most way for the Republican Party to deal with the youth vote? Will it try to appeal to young voters? Will they call a Time Out on the social issues - abortion, gay rights - time-honored issues that have alienated youth from the GOP?

Or, will the GOP dig its heels in and develop mechanisms that will suppress the youth vote, making it much more difficult for youth everywhere to exercise their franchise, and calling into question the residency of students at colleges across the nation?

The Harvard poll also found - to probably no one's shock or awe - that "online tools" such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and You Tube "make more of an impact than in-person advocacy (16%) when advocating for a political position."

"As the 2012 presidential primary and caucus season draws closer, young people will again have the opportunity to greatly impact the race for the White House," said Harvard's Institute of Politics Director Trey Grayson. "Political campaigns which incorporate an effective youth outreach strategy will have a strong advantage in the 2012 cycle."

"What's been proven in 2008 and in the events in the Middle East of late, is that young adults can make the difference when inspired," said John Della Volpe, Director of Polling for the Institute of Politics. "And before inspiration happens, it's important to understand how Millennials communicate - providing this perspective is what we aim to do every semester with our national research project."

The poll found:

*    Job approval ratings have risen for President Obama, especially among college youth.

*    Economy remains the top national issue of concern and source of anxiety among 18 to 29 year olds.

*    Facebook adoption continues to rise, outpaces Twitter by more than three-to-one.

*    Social media tools viewed as having a greater political impact than in-person advocacy.

*    Nearly twice as many Millennials view community service as "honorable" compared to running for office.

*    Millennials are not optimistic about the United States' role in the world.

*    America's 18 to 29 year olds look first to major national newspapers - followed by "Facebook Friend" statuses - to track 2012 presidential campaign.

"The drive to amend the constitution and thus enfranchise young adults 18-21 was, a priori, an expression of faith in the political system," Les Francis, a veteran Democratic consultant told Real Clear Politics' Carl M. Cannon. "And it came at precisely the same time that much media and political attention was being paid to those who were either working outside the system or who were, in fact, trying to undo or overturn the system."

In 1971, after years of young people maintaining, that if they were old enough to die for their country in Vietnam, they were old enough to vote, a Constitutional Amendment was passed that lowered the voting age. Can anyone imagine the Republican Party supporting that Constitutional Amendment today?


* For more on "voter fraud" see "The Truth About Voter Fraud" (Brennan Center for Justice) @


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