WASHINGTON — A series of laws and proposals popping up across the country this year to strengthen voter identification requirements is part of an effort to discourage voting by students, who turned out in large numbers for Barack Obama in 2008, the head of Rock the Vote told a conference of young liberals on Thursday.
"Under the radar, there are a set of people trying to make it harder for students to vote," said Rock the Vote president Heather Smith at the Campus Progress National Conference, just one day after Rhode Island announced a new voter identification law requiring photo IDs.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Rhode Island became the seventh state to have new or strengthened voter identification policies signed into law this year; several dozen more are considering or have considered similar proposals.
Proponents of the voter ID laws say they help prevent voter fraud.
College Republican National Committee spokesman Rob Lockwood said that requiring a government-issued ID does not hinder the right to vote.
"Requiring a valid government-issued ID to enter a ballot box protects the integrity of our democracy," Lockwood said. "Valid forms of government identification are required to get onto an airplane, into an R-rated movie or into a bar, so why not into a ballot box?"
Smith of Rock the Vote disagreed:
"In a democracy, where the right to vote should absolutely be protected, we should be working to make it easier, not harder, to cast a ballot," Smith said.
On Wednesday, former President Bill Clinton criticized the new photo ID laws as a "one of the most pervasive political movements" today, saying that Republican governors and legislators are trying to reduce voting by young Americans and minorities in the 2012 elections.
Smith said that asking residents to obtain a special state-issued ID is no different than a poll tax, which is prohibited by federal law, because there is a cost for out-of-state college students, for example, to get new forms of ID, which can be time-consuming and difficult.
"It's already hard enough for students who live out of state to be able to go out and vote," said Rachel Oyelola, an 18-year old student from Tolland, Conn. who attends college in Chicago. "(Photo ID laws) just make it harder."
(The Medill News Service is a Washington program of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Kelly F. Zimmerman, a graduate student from Chicago, Ill., covers youth and politics.)
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