THE BLOG

Sticks and Stones and Voting Rights

02/11/2011 11:39 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The headline in the student newspaper at the University of Montana, the Montana Kaimin, highlighted troubling attitudes about -- and disregard for -- the voting rights of young people: UNEDUCATED AND UNMOTIVATED: LEGISLATORS ATTACK INTEGRITY OF STUDENT VOTERS. Apparently, Montana legislators dish out their insults like Montanans drink their whiskey: straight up.

They are not alone. As legislatures across the country push bills that erode youth voting rights, we are seeing some pretty egregious examples, notably in Montana and New Hampshire. Fortunately for these rights-crushing crusaders the U.S. Supreme Court never ruled that all students have the right to vote where they attend college. Oh, it did? In 1979?

Well, thank goodness. That should stop 'em. Until then...

The Montana legislature abruptly killed a vote-by-mail reform bill and is now considering bills that would cancel Election Day registration and impose unnecessary voter ID restrictions, eliminating almost all forms of identification currently accepted when registering to vote.

Check out the Montana Kaimin article recapping the debate on the vote-by-mail bill and see if you can detect an unyielding respect for the sanctity of voting rights for all citizens. Better yet, break out a pen and try to circle all of the insults:

Student voting rights might be threatened by attitudes in the state legislature as characterized by House testimony Friday.

Debating the legitimacy of mail-in ballots, some legislators suggested college students might attempt to forge ballots in addition to being unmotivated and uneducated.

"I was definitely offended by some of the rhetoric in that debate," said Rep. Michele Reinhart, D-Missoula.

Discussion of HB 130 diverged from the topic of mail-in ballots to student voters when Rep. Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, suggested the removal of a clause that mandated voting outreach to students and other traditionally disenfranchised citizens.

"Concerned individuals don't need to be coddled and babysat to make sure they get it right," he said.

Ken Peterson, R-Billings, agreed and further suggested it would be reckless to encourage more university students to vote.

"I went to college myself and I know that sometimes you are not very motivated to do the right thing," Peterson said. "You are thinking about totally other things, so I don't think we should set up a special class to try to drag them to the polls."

He clarified to the Kaimin Monday that he is fine with students voting if they have an interest in exercising that right, but he doesn't think they need special treatment. Peterson said his experience in college was that many students didn't care to vote.

"I probably should have done it, but I wasn't motivated in any direction like that when I was a student," Peterson said. "Sometimes when you are in school, your brain doesn't work real well."

These aren't even all of the insults! To read the full story, click here.

In New Hampshire, the legislature is poised to change the definition of residency in a way "that would bar college students in New Hampshire from voting in their college's town." As the Dartmouth newspaper noted:

The bill changes the definition of domicile, requiring that an individual's residence for voting eligibility "be the most recent place where he or she as an adult or where his or her parents or legal guardians with whom he or she resided as a minor established physical presence" demonstrating an intention to keep that place as "his, her, or their principal and continuous place of physical presence," according to the bill.

Why would the sponsors of the bill be concerned about students voting? Well, Republican Speaker of the House, William O'Brien, has a few reasons:

He said students in college towns register to vote on Election Day "and are basically doing what I did when I was a kid and foolish, voting as a liberal."

He added: "That's what kids do. They don't have life experience and they just vote their feelings. And they've taken away the town's ability to govern themselves. It's not fair."

Well, at least he's being honest! Who knew politicians could be such straight shooters?

Bottom line: there are lots of threats to voting rights across the country. We are on top of it and will have more for you soon. (In fact, you can sign up to be in the loop here: http://www.rockthevote.com/campaigns/suppression/.) Until then, enjoy being unmotivated, uneducated, coddled, and, of course, getting your special treatment. Silly kids with brains that don't work well.

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(Also, this fight isn't confined to Montana and New Hampshire. Next Tuesday, in Missouri, the state House of Representatives concluding a hearing on a voter ID bill that will make it nearly impossible for out-of-state students to vote in Missouri, including those already registered to vote in the Show Me state. Read more here.)