North Carolina students targeted for disenfranchisement by Republican-passed voter suppression laws are fighting back with an inspired legal argument--that the state's "voter ID" law constitutes an abridgement of the right to vote under the 26th Amendment because it discriminates on the basis of their age:
Joining a challenge to a state law alongside the N.A.A.C.P., the American Civil Liberties Union and the Justice Department, lawyers for seven college students and three voter-registration advocates are making the novel constitutional argument that the law violates the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 from 21. The amendment also declares that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.”There are few examples of Republican anti-American treachery as blatant as their efforts to suppress or stifle the very act of voting, an act for which tens of thousands of Americans either directly or implicitly laid down their lives during the course of this country's long, war-torn history. Perhaps because they still cling to cherished illusions about the democratic ideals and values at the heart of the American experiment that inspired its creation, perhaps because they're now seeing those values ground into dust by a lethal combination of Republican cynicism and a willing Supreme Court, some young people are reacting quite negatively to what they see as a crass effort by their state legislatures to restrict or prevent their ability to vote.
There has never been a case like it, and if the students succeed, it will open another front in what has become a highly partisan battle over voting rights.
In Ohio, for example, Republicans tried to pass a law forcing Ohio colleges to charge out-of-state students the much cheaper in-state tuition fee if they assisted any efforts to register out-of-state students to vote in Ohio. This measure (which would have cost Ohio universities millions of dollars) failed after an outcry from state schools. Similarly, the Times article notes that the Republican party in Maine through its Attorney General issued warning letters to Maine college students advising them that they must register their cars in Maine if they want to vote there. This was after the same Attorney General found absolutely no instances of voter fraud among Maine students. Of course, young people and college students, like the minority groups in the crosshairs of such laws, tend to vote mostly Democratic. In North Carolina, the state's student and younger voters are credited with carrying the state for Barack Obama in 2008, and making it quite close in 2012. This prompted an immediate response from the Republican legislature and Governor:
Under the North Carolina law passed last year, the period for early voting was shortened and same-day registration was eliminated. Beginning in 2016, voters will need to show photo identification, and student ID cards, including those issued by state universities, will not be acceptable. In most instances, neither will an out-of-state driver’s license.The claim of age discrimination has been combined with other claims asserting the well-established racist aspects of these disenfranchisement measures. There will be a hearing on Monday to determine whether to delay the enforcement of North Carolina's voter ID law until the Court can make a determination as to its Constitutionality.
The law also eliminated a program in which teenagers filled out their voter-registration forms early and were automatically registered when they turned 18.
“For people like me, it makes what should be a simple process very difficult,” said Josue Berduo, 20, an economics major at North Carolina State University and a Democrat who is one of the plaintiffs.
Mr. Berduo, who is from Asheville, N.C., has a state identification card. But many students do not, he said, and no matter how much attention the law gets, some students will be unaware of the changes and will arrive at polling places carrying out-of-state licenses or student identification cards.
Evidently this new line of argument has some Republicans feeling nervous:
Lawyers for the students believe they can make the case that the law is intentionally discriminatory. As proof of this intent, they note that the state prohibited the Division of Motor Vehicles from registering 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by Election Day this fall. All other eligible voters could register there. In court documents filed in late June, the state said it had reversed that policy but did not say why.As the Times article points out, other courts have ruled that college students can be discriminated against by election laws, but this appears to be the first time the 26th Amendment issue has been raised.
The lawyers also point to the state’s decision to allow military and veteran identification cards, but not student IDs, as “strong evidence that the legislature wanted to make it difficult for young citizens to vote.”