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November 05, 2012 2:00 PM College Students and Voting Trouble

By Daniel Luzer

College students, many of whom are first time voters, are pretty confused about election rules. Good job, GOP. According to a piece by Tyler Kingkade at the Huffington Post:

Forty percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 are not clear about voting laws their state, according to a new poll released on Oct. 30 by CIRCLE, a youth research organization at Tufts University. When it comes to voter ID rules specifically, 42 percent did not know whether their state required photo identification to vote, and 27 percent of those who thought they knew their state’s photo ID rules were mistaken. Another 43 percent did not know the early voting rules in their state, and 40 percent didn’t know if they needed to register to vote 30 days in advance of the election, as many states require.

This confusion, of course, is ultimately likely to result in lower voter turnout among college students. It’s too early to tell, of course (one doesn’t necessarily need to know the Byzantine rules of state elections in order to vote; if you’ve got the proper documentation you don’t really need to know who’se being disenfranchised) but it’s reasonable to suspect if a college freshman has never before voted and the rules aren’t clear he’ll just stay home.

As Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE, explained to Kingkade, “Knowledge of state voting laws by voters 29 and under remains a serious problem…. “Our complicated and rapidly changing electoral system is hard to navigate, especially for first-time voters, and they need more guidance and information.”

Well that’s one way of thinking about it. The trouble with this recommendation is that the rules are really complicated, and change often, at least in part as a way to prevent college students from voting. It’s a tactic conservative policymakers use to keep college students away from voting booths because, you know, they tend to vote for Democrats.

What college students need, ultimately, is not more “guidance and information”; they need fewer bullshit rules to prevent them from voting.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer