New Voting Laws Threaten Student Political Engagement
- Nearly 20 Republican-led states tighten voting laws ahead of 2021 state elections.
- ID requirements and bans on mail-in and drive-through voting will impact students.
- The new laws are seen as a direct parry to the surge of young voters in 2020.
The youth vote surged in 2020, propelling Joe Biden into the White House and giving Democrats slim majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. In response, legislatures in Republican-led states recently enacted new voting laws that could curtail participation by college-aged voters as soon as November.
Half of Americans ages 18-29 voted in the 2020 general election, an 11 point increase from 2016, according to Tufts University's Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). Previous research by CIRCLE found that the youth vote played a crucial role in congressional elections in battleground states. A Pew Research Center analysis found that voters under 30 favored Biden by 24 percentage points — 59% supported Biden, and 35% supported Donald Trump.
In the last year, at least 19 states have introduced new restrictions to voting access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. These laws will affect hundreds of state and local elections this November.
The rule changes could have an outsized effect on college students and young people of color — demographics that form a significant voting block and are repeat targets of voting law changes and gerrymandering. Laws like those in Texas that ban the unsolicited distribution of mail-in ballot applications, limit efforts to collect and drop off student ballots, and narrow the list of acceptable forms of ID, create additional barriers, especially for out-of-state students. Likewise, the elimination of expansive practices such as drive-through and 24-hour voting — methods favored by young voters and voters of color — can be viewed as a direct response to increased turnout among those demographics in 2020.
Here's a look at the states with the most impactful new voting laws and the potential repercussions of those restrictions for the youth vote this year and beyond.
Five election-related bills were passed this year, including Senate Bill 1485, which changes the state's permanent early voting list into an "active" voter list. Voters will be purged from the list if they don't use their early ballot at least once in two consecutive two-year election cycles and fail to respond to a notice from county officials warning them of the removal.
Before the introduction of this bill, Arizona was already home to some of the nation's most restrictive voting rules. Last July in a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld voting rules the state introduced in 2016 requiring in-person ballots to be cast in the precinct where the voter is registered, and that ballots cast in the wrong precinct be thrown out. The other law bans the collection of absentee ballots by anyone other than a relative or caregiver.
Omnibus voting law Senate Bill 90 adds new rules to every stage of Florida's voting process, which impact how much time college students will have to vote and how they can engage other young voters.
Voters were previously able to request mail-in ballots through the next two general elections — the next four years. Voters will now be limited to requesting ballots through the next general election, or the next two years. They must provide either their driver's license number or the last four digits of their social security number when requesting a ballot.
The new law prohibits election officials from mailing ballots to voters unless requested. It also bans attempts to influence voters around polling places and dropboxes. Voting activist groups that set up booths and offer free food and water to people waiting in line on election day will no longer be permitted.
Finally, Florida's election laws narrow how ballots can be cast. To prevent tampering, the law prohibits ballot harvesting, limiting a person from possessing more than two ballots other than their own, except for immediate family members'. These laws also impact dropbox use. Except for secure dropboxes at the election supervisor's office, all other dropboxes may now only be used only during early voting hours, rather when they are mostly used — late at night.
Georgia's new voting restrictions go even further than Florida's.
Senate Bill 202 shortens the window of time in which voters can request and complete absentee ballots. It also requires voters to provide their driver's license number, the last four of their social security number, or another form of valid ID when requesting a ballot.
New laws also ban anyone but poll workers from handing out food or water to voters in line. At urban polling spots known for long wait times, voting activists usually provide snacks to encourage voters to stay in line. Doing so in the state of Georgia now would court a criminal charge.
Georgia will now also tamp down on ballot dropboxes. During the 2020 election, there were 94 dropboxes across the central counties of metropolitan Atlanta. The new law limits the same counties to a total of 23 dropboxes going forward. In lieu of 24-hour voting and mobile polling, dropboxes will only be available indoors at government buildings and early-voting sites.
Texas loosened its voting laws four years ago after a 2011 voter ID law was found to discriminate against Latino/a and Black voters. A 2017 bill created alternatives for voters unable to obtain one of the seven forms of ID accepted at the polls. Now, Texas law is tightening around voter ID, ballot dropboxes, and in-person voting once again.
Senate Bill 1 requires voters to provide either their driver's license number or the last four digits of their social security number when requesting a ballot and when filling out a ballot. Heightened ID requirements, plus bans on drive-thru voting and extended voting hours, stand to impact Texas college students most.
As they stand, Texas voting laws increase the number of potential criminal violations associated with elections. The bill makes it a felony for a public official to send an unrequested mail-in ballot. Local officials are also barred from providing absentee ballot request forms to get-out-the-vote groups.
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