GOP-backed voting restrictions under fire
Maggie Flaherty was so upset that she was too young to cast a ballot against Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election that one of her first missions when she arrived as a freshman at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire the following year was to register to vote.
Then the Ukiah native learned about a new proposal from state Republicans that would subject college students who vote in the state to residency requirements such as getting in-state driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations.
“That costs money,” said Flaherty, who along with a classmate and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state after the law passed. “And I don’t think it should cost money to be able to vote.”
The fight in New Hampshire is one of at least a dozen legal skirmishes being waged across the country, in the run-up to the 2020 election, that are financed by Democrats and liberal activists who hope to overturn or head off measures they fear could erode the electoral might of young voters — an increasingly left-leaning voting bloc.
Over the past decade, Republicans in more than a dozen states have tried to limit the kinds of student IDs that can be used at the polls, restricted the number of polling locations on or near college campuses, or gerrymandered political boundaries that divide campuses and dilute the power of student voters, as well as other measures.
Among the states with laws that Democrats fear could hamper the youth vote in 2020 are battlegrounds including Wisconsin, Florida and New Hampshire.
Republicans say the rules are meant to prevent fraud and safeguard the integrity of elections, and they deny accusations that they are trying to make it harder for young people to vote.
But there is little doubt that Democrats had more to gain when young voters engaged in recent elections. Voters under 30 turned out in record numbers last fall, helping to power a liberal wave that swept Democrats into power in Congress.
At the same time, that age group still cast ballots at far lower rates than all others. Voting-rights activists believe one reason is a slew of restrictions pushed by GOP state leaders in recent years.
Democrats and their allies are planning to spend millions of dollars on lawsuits arguing that such measures are unconstitutional and aimed at dissuading the participation of young voters.
“Elections are oftentimes a game of inches,” said Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer in Washington who is leading many of the challenges. “Young voters, particularly given the size of the millennial generation, can be measured in feet or yards. The difference of one percentage point here or there can be the difference between victory and loss.”
Young voters have eluded Democrats for decades, and they are still not close to realizing their full electoral power. In the 2018 midterms, their turnout rate was little more than half that of voters overall, according to data from Tufts University and the University of Florida.
Yet from 2014 to 2018, participation among young voters rose seven percentage points, according to the Tufts analysis. More than two-thirds of them voted for Democrats in 2018, according to exit polling data — a higher margin than seen in a generation.