What if politicians could take away your voting rights just because they can't agree?
That's essentially what's happening in Wisconsin right now, where a heated debate over the state's budget and the rights of public employees has turned voting rights into a political volleyball between Republicans and Democrats.
The politicking has gotten so bad that Democrats fled the state to avoid voting on the budget. Then Republicans tried to lure them back Thursday by forcing the legislature to vote on a measure that puts unnecessary barriers in the way of people who are already eligible to vote in elections. It didn't work because the Democrats didn't come back and Republicans couldn't pass the bill, but this isn't the last we've seen of it.
It's outrageous that something as core to our democracy as the right to vote could be used as a political bargaining chip.
More troubling, however, is that the proposed voter identification measure would have been on the legislative docket regardless of this budget crisis, threatening to weaken participation in a state that ranked second in 2008 national turnout. As University of Wisconsin-Madison student Sam Polstein, who is leading the fight against the measure on campus, explains on Rock the Vote's blog:
"For out-of-state students, like myself, this bill would require us to go to the DMV, surrender our out-of-state licenses and obtain a Wisconsin license at $28 a pop... Furthermore, the bill requires voters to live at their voting address for 28 (rather than the current 10) days before Election Day. This is a direct attack on college students' voting rights as most move into their new residences less than 28 days before the fall primaries. This is shocking, disheartening, and unnecessary to prevent the almost non-existent fraud in Wisconsin elections. Our government should be encouraging students to engage in the civic process."
The problem reaches far beyond Wisconsin. It's one of several states currently fighting off an active assault on voting rights. States like Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, Maine, Iowa, New Hampshire and North Carolina, among others, are also facing similar pieces of legislation.
Voter ID requirements are one of many tactics used to disenfranchise voters. Efforts to eliminate early voting, same-day registration, pre-registration, and the rights of students also prevent young people and others, like seniors and the poor, from participating in our civic process.
This war on voting disproportionately impacts young people and is a serious threat to the next generation's ability to participate in the electoral process.
Unfortunately, there's no quick-fix solution to ensure that all young people around the country are able to exercise their basic voting rights. Voter registration laws vary state-by-state, and it's up to young people to take action at home if we want to stop the widespread war on voting.
Momentum adds up. Our fight starts here in Wisconsin, but we've got to be ready to shine a spotlight on attacks against our voting rights wherever they take place.
To stay informed about what's happening in your state, you can sign up for updates from Rock the Vote by joining our Voter Suppression is Un-American campaign.
Together we can build an electorate that truly represents the next generation.
Follow Heather Smith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rtvhs