Ashley Spillane: Kansas voting law suppresses turnout

08/23/2014 7:04 PM

08/24/2014 12:04 AM

As U.S. citizens, we pride ourselves on living in a country that has become the standard-bearer of democratic values worldwide. But a troubling pattern has taken hold, threatening this distinction for generations to come.

Since 2011, more than 30 states have passed laws that restrict access to citizens’ constitutional right to cast a ballot. These laws disenfranchise eligible youth, minority and first-time voters, marginalizing their voices and collective role in our democracy.

In Kansas, the laws are particularly egregious, requiring proof of citizenship in order to simply register to vote. This week a federal appeals court will hear oral arguments from Kansas officials who argue that the federal government should help them enforce these harsh state laws.

Make no mistake – these laws suppress turnout. About 20,000 Kansans have been kept from registering to vote since the state first passed its proof-of-citizenship law in 2011. These people currently remain on controlled “suspense lists,” which prevent them from voting, because the state claims these individuals have not provided “proper” proof of their citizenship – though officials admit that many of those on the list could be there due to bureaucratic confusion regarding the requirements mandated by the state.

As the president of an organization that advocates for the political power of young people, I am especially concerned about the disproportionate impact these laws have on students, first-time voters and young Kansans. A recent analysis by Reuters showed that young people are less likely to carry ID, and studies have estimated that more than 35 percent of 18-year-olds do not have a valid government-issued license. And in Kansas these days, no ID means no vote.

Rock the Vote is committed to the belief that it should be easier – not harder – for all Americans to cast a ballot and have their voices heard. We support efforts to reduce voter fraud when methods are proved to strengthen, not weaken, the health of our democracy. That’s why Rock the Vote recently joined other community-registration arms, including Voto Latino, to sign an amicus brief arguing that proof-of-citizenship voter laws in Kansas and Arizona unduly impair efforts to register new voters. We’ve also organized a “Protect Voting” coalition and launched an online petition to raise awareness.

Millennials are the largest, most diverse generation in this country’s history, and we want our voices heard. We are this country’s future, and we want to help shape its leadership. Old thinking and new laws designed to suppress youth turnout are standing in our way.

We hope as these issues are re-litigated this week, Kansans will stand for the future, and not the past.

Ashley Spillane is president of Rock the Vote, which is based in Washington, D.C.

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