It seems like a fundamental principle of American democracy -- citizens are entitled to political representation in the community where they live, work and pay taxes. Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics are local." Our constitutional system is based on local representation and our politics are based in the communities where we live.
Many, if not most, Americans vote where they live. When I moved to Rhode Island for college, I deregistered to vote in my hometown of Washington, D.C. and registered to vote in Providence. It was important to me to participate in my new community and to be able to approach elected leaders in my community as a constituent. This connection to community is an important part of responsible citizenship.
That seems like a pretty common sense idea, right?
Not so fast. Many Americans between 18 and 24-years-old live in a state, pay taxes, and even have a valid state-issued picture identification, but they still do not meet state requirements to vote. What's the common denominator? They are college students.
Some states, including Texas, Tennessee, and -- under a provision of its recently-enacted voter ID legislation -- North Carolina do not allow university students to use their student IDs as valid forms of voter identification. In Texas, for example, a gun license is a valid form of ID, but a student ID is not. In Tennessee, state law allows faculty members and staff to use state-university-issued IDs at the polls, while students may not use IDs issued from those same universities.
Now, in North Carolina, young people are asking the justice system to intervene. This week, according to the New York Times, students have joined a suit alleging that North Carolina's voter laws unfairly discriminate against young people. North Carolina not only banned student IDs as valid voter IDs, but they also reversed a statute that enfranchised 16- and 17-year olds as they became licensed drivers. Previously North Carolina was one of 20 states that allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to register as long as they turn 18 before the next election.
This is not a partisan issue. It is a generational issue.
This is why the organization I co-founded, Common Sense Action, cares deeply about Millennial enfranchisement. CSA is the first bipartisan Millennial advocacy organization based on 24 campuses and 15 states, including one at UNC-Chapel Hill. When we talk to our state representatives or our Congressmen, the first thing they tell us is that Millennials don't vote enough. We are told that our concerns about ever-increasing tuition, the burden of student-loan debt, growing entitlements, and the lack of adequate skills training will not become a priority until we vote in large enough numbers to make our voices count.
For that reason, our Agenda for Generational Equity (AGE), the first bipartisan and open-sourced policy agenda for the Millennial generation, advocates for two policy proposals that, in tandem, will preserve the integrity of voter lists and ensure that Millennial voices are heard through the electoral process. States should accept state-issued university IDs as valid identification for registered voters. And, they should ensure accurate voting lists by comparing with other states and private databases.
Voter lists are clearly not as accurate as they need to be. And there is a compelling argument to invest in voter-roll improvement. Updating voter registration records is not always the first thing someone thinks of after moving, or something families remember to do after a loved one passes away. As a result, states should invest in stronger voter registration lists and strengthen voter database technology. More accurate lists should reduce claims of voter fraud and improve the voting experience for many Americans.
The presence of inaccuracies, however, does not mean that we should systematically exclude university students from using their IDs to vote in the states and towns where they live, work, and pay taxes. Similarly, it does not mean that we should prevent the Departments of Motor Vehicles from registering 16 and 17-year-olds who will be eligible to vote by election time.
We constantly hear politicians tell us that it is time for your generation to take ownership in the political process. Of course, in order for new voices to be heard at the policymaking table, Millennials must turn out to vote in higher numbers and engage more with our elected officials.
But when Millennials, the most diverse, networked and independent generation in American history take ownership and participate in the political process, we should expect the same rights as other voters. We cannot stand for generational exclusion at the polls.
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