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Voter Supression: Students

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I am a recent graduate from the University of Central Florida, the largest university in the state of Florida with over 58,000 students. As an undergraduate, I spent countless hours every day educating students on their voting rights, how to get registered and their voting potential. We are in the center of the I4 corridor -- the swing area of one of the most important swing states in America. The UCF student body, along with students from across Florida, has the potential to swing the tide of any election, and draw the course of our nation.

That would explain why the voting rights of students in Florida -- and across the nation for that matter -- have been blatantly attacked by right-winged legislatures.

I have always said that voting is a non-partisan issue. It is not about politics; it is the most basic and fundamental right we have as a representative democracy. When it comes right down to it, it does not matter who or what you vote for, as long as you vote. Unfortunately, Republican legislatures and governors from across the nation don't seem to hold that ideal.

That's why, according to reports by Rolling Stone magazine, in 2011 38 states introduced legislation suppressing electoral participation. All of these policies disproportionately affect the poor, minorities, elderly and students; groups that came out in record numbers for President Obama and Democrats in 2008.

Impeding the student vote involves several different tactics. We can start with photo ID laws. In 2011, eight states passed new photo ID requirements into law, making it increasingly difficult for students to cast their ballots. For example, in Texas, a concealed-weapon permit is considered an acceptable form of identification; but a student ID is not. In Wisconsin, it was deemed that students can only vote with student IDs if it included a current address, date of birth, signature and a two-year expiration date. Not surprisingly, no college or university ID met these requirements. Then there are the restrictions on voter registration, changes to address update protocols, and cuts to early vote. One their own, each tactic makes voting considerable more challenging.

Now imagine if a state implemented all of those tactics.

Well actually you don't need to imagine it; you just need to visit Florida.

In May of 2011, Florida's Republican legislature passed House Bill 1355 (HB 1355, Senate Bill 2086), and Republican Governor Rick Scott signed it into law. Even before this law, Florida had voter ID laws in place; but HB 1355 enacted strict new rules directly suppressing the student vote. Under the new law, third party organizations that conduct voter registration drives faced new restrictions, requiring that they turn in forms within 48 hours, rather than the 10 days previously allotted; or face large fines. The law cut early vote nearly in half, and changes when and where citizens can update their voting address. These tactics directly target young voters. Groups such as Rock the Vote known to get out the youth vote, halted all voter registration efforts. Cuts to early vote do nothing to deter voter fraud, and make it more difficult for students registered back home to find time to travel and cast their ballot. Changes to address updates make that process even more difficult. If a student moves to a different county, they cannot update their address at the polls; they instead must cast a provisional ballot. As a former student, I can say that we move a lot. And when you are at a campus like UCF, which lies amid two different counties, that policy will prevent students from voting.

Let's fast forward into 2012. Not surprisingly, after voter suppression, we have voter purge.

Less than three months from a primary and six months from the November General Election Florida's Secretary of State decided our voting rolls needed to be purged. In fact, the state's initial search rendered 180,000 potential "purgeable" voters. Not to my surprise, the Miami Herald reports the majority being Democrats, no-party affiliations, and Hispanics. Of these voters included a citizen who has been voting for 40 years and a 91 year-old World War II veteran.

This situation is so extreme that the Department of Justice intervened; stating that the voting purge must be stopped as it is violates both the Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act. Since then all 67 Supervisors of Elections in Florida have suspended the voter purge. Recently a federal judge also struck down the 48-hour rule provision of HB 1355, describing the deadline as "harsh and impractical," harming the electoral process.

Governor Scott's reaction to this recent news? His administration is happy most of the election law is intact, and despite the request made by the Department of Justice, will continue the purge.

On campus reaching out to students, I would always remind myself that even if we talked to one student -- one student who wasn't registered before, we've made a difference. As a society, we should be alarmed even when a single citizen is denied their right to vote. Instead, we see polices designed to halt the rare possibility of non-citizens voting, while simultaneously impeding that right to citizens. Students have powerful potential across this nation to introduce innovate ideas, grand visions, and a undeniable energy. We should take every step to make voting more accessible to students, and all demographics; rather than restricting that right. No matter the results of any election, when we all vote, we all win.