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Could tougher voting laws squelch the youth vote?

Aug 10, 2012 - By Martha Irvine, AP National Writer

CHICAGO -- Gone are the days when young voters weren't taken seriously. In 2008, they helped propel Barack Obama into the Oval Office, supporting him by a 2-1 margin.

But that higher profile also has landed them in the middle of the debate over some state laws that regulate voter registration and how people identify themselves at the polls.

Since the last election, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Wisconsin and Texas and other states have tried to limit or ban the use of student IDs as voter identification. In Florida, lawmakers tried to limit "third party" organizations, including student groups, from registering new voters.

Proponents of voter ID and registration laws say the laws are intended to combat voter fraud. The intent, they say, is to make sure people who are voting are who they say they are and have the right to vote.

"In this day and age, nothing could be more rational than requiring a photo ID when voters come to the polls," Pennsylvania's senior deputy attorney general, Patrick Cawley, said recently when defending the state's new law in court.

Others see these efforts as attempts to squelch the aspirations of the budding young voting bloc and other groups, and they're using that claim to try to get more young people fired up.

"You think your vote doesn't matter? Then why are they trying so hard to take it away from you?" asks Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, a group that works to register young voters. "It does demonstrate the power they have."

Smith notes that it's not just an issue for college students.

She was teaching a civics class for graduating seniors at an inner-city high school in Philadelphia this spring and asked how many among them had driver's licenses that could be used, if the Pennsylvania law requiring a photo ID to vote were to survive the legal challenge.

"They looked at me like I had two heads," she says. Only two students in the room of 200 raised a hand; few of the students had cars.

These are the sort of stories that have led some students to get involved, particularly on college campuses.

In Florida, Rock The Vote joined with the League of Women Voters to challenge restrictions on "third party" voter registration. A federal judge said last spring that many of the restrictions made it too difficult for legitimate voter registration organizations to do their work. During the fight, students at the University of Central Florida placed ironing boards around campus, a symbol that they were "pressing the issue."

Now, while most college campuses are relatively quiet, some of those students have taken it upon themselves to register their peers during freshman orientation this summer.
 

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