New Voters Project Studies Youth Turnout

This story was written by Frank Vitale, Massachusetts Daily Collegian
Many restrictive voting practices are depressing already-low youth voting numbers, according to a study released last Tuesday by the Student PIRG's New Voters Project.

The New Voters Project, a non-partisan program aimed at increasing student turnout at the polls, studied voting trends in Arizona and New Mexico, two states with exceptionally restrictive voting laws, and compiled a report titled "Restrictive Voter Registration Laws: Impacts and Short Term Mitigation Strategies."

New Mexico law requires third-party registration agents to swear an oath to obey all election laws to a local county clerk. New Mexico also limits the number of voter registration forms any third-party registration organizations can obtain at a time.

Arizona requires a person registering for the first time to provide an Arizona state driver's license number. In lieu of such a number, the prospective voter may present another document verifying citizenship, such as a birth certificate along with "supporting legal documentation (i.e. marriage certificate)."

The author of the study pointed out that most college students would be unlikely to have such documents with them at school, making it harder to register.

By comparison, Massachusetts allows citizens to register without identification, though if they do not present ID when they register, they must show identification when they vote for the first time in a federal election. Acceptable identification must include the voters name and address at which they are registered to vote, and include driver's licenses, current utility bills, paychecks or even bank statements.

David J. Rosenfield, the study's author and director of the Student PIRG's national program, assured that these losses could be offset with a little effort and involvement.

"We had a theory that there are things you can do to mitigate it," he told the Harvard Crimson.

He went on to explain that the New Mexico laws limiting third-party involvement were subject to the interpretation of local registrars. By developing good relations with the registrars, the Student PIRGs were able to attain a little breathing room, and it showed.

The study found that at campuses where the New Voters Project operated, New Mexico youth voted at a rate of 3.8 percent, a rate equal to that of campuses operating in states with less restrictive voting laws.

The report included several recommendations designed to increase youth voter turnout.

Citizens should be able to register and vote wherever they currently choose to reside, with no interference from the state.

Any identification requirements for voter registration or voting should be as broad as possible and should include items that average citizens commonly have in their possession - not items that students do not typically carry.

Citizens should be able to register and vote up to election day and should be given an opportunity to register to vote as soon as they become eligible.

Citizens should be notified in writing, by phone and electronically, anytime their registration status is changed, and citizen-sponsored registration drives should be encouraged, not discouraged.

"Only when we see national reform that removes barriers to student voting," said Rosenfield, "will we fully hear young people's voices in this country."

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© 2007 Massachusetts Daily Collegian via U-WIRE