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New voting laws target Black college students

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 1/12/2012, 1:37 p.m.

As Black people across the nation face the challenge of keeping access to the franchise of voting while Republican legislators and governors try to suppress the Black vote to derail President Barack Obama's reelection efforts, Black college students find themselves a primary target of those strategizing to keep people of color away from the polls.

New voting laws that went into effect in several states could impact the turnout of young college voters in several states, including Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Texas. Many of these states have a number of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, with tens of thousands of student coming from the New York City area as well as other states with large Black populations.

Laws that now require college students to show government-issued ID work to exclude them from the voting process because lawmakers know they are unlikely to have such identification. Student IDs will not be accepted at the polls in several states, even if the IDs are from state institutions.

Students in Florida, Georgia and Texas are also being legislated out of participating in voter registration drives. In addition, a lack of time, money and resources is going to be a factor for college students who must get in-state IDs in order to vote.

Numbers show that during the historic 2008 election of Obama, young voters mobilized in record numbers. According to the U.S. Census, there were 2.5 million Black college students in the fall of 2008. The turnout rate during the 2008 presidential election for the 18- to 24-year-old Black population was 55 percent, with Blacks having the highest turnout rate in this age group.

In response to the passage of Senate Bill 14, which requires voters to show state or federal ID in order to cast their ballot, the Texas State Conference of the NAACP is claiming that students at all-Black Prairie View A&M University, located outside of Houston, Texas, are being targeted.

In a joint letter to the Department of Justice, the Texas NAACP, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and the Brennan Center for Justice detailed how Black college students are being suppressed. African-Americans constitute 17.2 percent of Texas' total university student population and 16.9 percent of the state's public university students, despite representing a smaller share of Texas' overall voting age population.

"African-Americans are more likely to be attending a public university in Texas than whites, but student IDs were not included as an acceptable form of identification in Senate Bill 14," they said. "According to the 2009 American Community Survey, 8 percent of voting-age African-Americans in Texas were attending a public university, compared with only 5.8 percent of voting-age whites."

Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Barbara R. Arnwine said in a letter that college students are being targeted, along with low-income and elderly people and people of color.

"In addition to the adverse effects of photo ID laws that would limit their ability to vote where they attend school, students are increasingly targets of other voter suppression laws," Arnwine said.

A bill was recently struck down in New Hampshire that would have restricted student voting after a YouTube video surfaced showing the state's Republican House speaker stating that he wanted to target "foolish" college students who vote liberal because "they don't have life experience and they just vote their feelings."