Republicans in state legislatures are working around the clock to make it harder for students to vote.
Earlier this month, Florida politicians rushed a bill through committee that would stop people from voting by mail if they don’t have a verified Social Security number, a valid state-issued driver’s license, or a Florida ID card. These new rules could deter thousands of college students who attend school in Florida from voting by mail.
This February, a bill in the Texas legislature was introduced by a Republican member that would forbid polling locations on college campuses throughout the state. Then in March, Idaho lawmakers used their power to ban voting with student IDs.
And in Georgia since 2006, the state has only accepted student IDs from public colleges and universities, meaning students at several historically black universities in the state must use another form of identification.
Voting for college students is difficult. I know because I experienced it up close.
When I was in college prior to the 2016 presidential election, I was a voter registration organizer in upstate New York. Despite the state’s reputation for strong voting rights laws, the forms were an absolute nightmare to fill out.
The addresses that could be listed on the registration forms were endless—was it their dorm address? The student P.O. box where they received their mail? The college campus address? Or their childhood home? And to make matters worse, many first-time voters hadn’t yet changed their IDs from their home states.
The process was maddeningly complex, and a stark reminder of the real obstacles that young people face when exercising their right to vote. Given this reality, our politicians should be making it easier for Gen Z to vote, not harder.
But Republicans are attempting to do the exact opposite.
Earlier this month at a Republican retreat, conservative lawyer Cleta Mitchell—who advised former President Donald Trump on his plans to overturn the 2020 election—shared her strategy to suppress the youth vote. Mitchell launched into an extensive diatribe, complete with a 50-slide Powerpoint presentation, telling conference attendees that they needed greater scrutiny of “these college campus locations and polling. They basically put the polling place next to the student dorm,” said Mitchell. “And we need to build strong election integrity task forces in these counties.”
As we saw in Arizona during the 2020 election, when a far-right group launched an election integrity task force—they sent two armed men in tactical gear to patrol voting drop boxes in Maricopa County—these Republican election integrity task forces are rarely about the safety and security of elections; they’re a smokescreen to make voting more difficult. And with Republicans’ lagging success with Gen Z voters, this new strategy makes sense.
Take a look at the last midterm election, where exit polling showed strong youth support for Democrats, typically on issues like climate change, reproductive rights, and gun control. Voters aged 18-24 voted 61 percent for Democrats, while the 25-29 age group voted 65 percent blue.
In the wake of the recent state Supreme Court election in his home state, where Republicans lost, even former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker acknowledged the GOP’s disconnect with Gen Z voters in an interview with Fox News. “To me the larger issue here—we’ve seen it particularly in Wisconsin but across the country—is younger voters. In Wisconsin, last fall, we saw about a 40-point margin that younger voters gave to the Democrats running for Senate and governor. We saw similar margins in Pennsylvania,” said Walker.
Knowing this, you would think Republicans, like any rational politicians, would come up with a better way to reach young voters. While they have put in some effort, it’s mostly been with absurd fringe groups. For example, Turning Point USA (TPUSA), a right-wing group for young people with close ties to the Trump administration, released a “urban engagement activism kit” during the last election with awkward Fresh Prince of Bel-Air stickers and a poster that reads, “No one raps about staying broke.” (Gen Z voters, by definition, are too young to have watched the original Fresh Prince while the show was on the air.)
But this isn’t new—conservatives have a history of suppressing voters they can't win over.
Republicans are well aware of their shortcomings with Black voters in Wisconsin, and have fought tooth and nail to make it harder for them to vote. In majority-minority communities like Milwaukee, they've filed lawsuits to outlaw ballot drop boxes and prevent clerks from filling in missing information on ballot envelopes. In a Trump campaign team meeting in 2020, the Wisconsin staff joked about their outreach to Black voters: “Have we ever talked to Black people before? I don’t think so.”
With a presidential election on the horizon, Republicans are hyper-aware of Gen Z’s voting power. Although young voters in past elections have been inconsistent, Gen Z in the last midterm election put Republicans on notice. And since the GOP can’t win young voters on the issues they care about, so voter suppression strategies used for decades to suppress minority voters are now being copied and pasted to suppress Gen Z voting.
But this can’t last forever. Republicans are well aware that their archaic policy ideas alone won't bring in new voters. That's why they're scrambling to enforce these oppressive voting laws. They know that this new breed of Americans could boot them out of their cushy seats of power in a heartbeat.
And if members of Gen Z continue to exercise their democratic rights with the same zeal they demonstrated in 2020 and 2022, those politicians who support voter suppression laws will soon be kicked to the curb. The future belongs to Gen Z, sooner than later.