Junior organizes against Senate bill, says will unfairly limit voting rights for college students
This week the United States Senate passed the Equal Protection Voting Act of 2001, which Washington University junior and organizer of the National Student Advocacy Alliance Ben Smilowitz says could limit the ability of college students to vote.
Smilowitz said that the bill had good intentions, such as preventing voter fraud that occurred in the last presidential election from happening again. But Smilowitz said a provision requiring first-time voters to present state-issued identification with their current address could hinder out-of-state student voters, which he said adds up to about one million people national-wide.
For example, previously students on the South 40 could register to vote in Missouri using their campus box address and by presenting out-of-state identification. Now, they must have in-state ID, such as a Missouri driver’s license. Smilowitz explained that keeping an up-to-date Missouri driver’s license is difficult, because students’ addresses change every year.
“The Republicans wanted this bill to pass because one or two dogs voted in the last election. Now what’s more important, a whole population or a few dogs?” said Smilowitz. “We basically said that it is not worth blocking an entire population.”
Smilowitz explained that many students already do not vote and that the added difficulties imposed by the new legislation will only further disenfranchise students.
“How many students are voting in this country? A very small number,” said Smilowitz. “And if we’re looking at one million students who have to change their voting procedures when they go away to college, that’s significant.”
“We wanted that provision taken out, or at least to get an exception for students, for homeless and for transients,” he added.
Though Smilowitz said there is a remote possibility for last minute amendments to the bill, he conceded the battle over this legislation to its proponents. He said, “The powers that be were too strong for us this time,” but added that the newly formed National Student Advocacy Alliance is here to stay.
It has already begun work on other contentious issues for students, including protecting student newspapers, fighting graduated licenses, clearing the way for students to serve on boards, and opposing the posting of the ten commandments in some public schools.
Overall, the organization’s goal is to “elevate a student agenda, define and prioritize student issues, provide representation when decisions are made that affect young people, promote policy respectful of young people, and build political power.”
“If you look at all the populations in our society from workers to professors to graduate students, there are unions for almost every position in society – ethnicity groups – everyone has a union,” said Smilowitz. “There is a union that represents students, but there are not individual student members. So we have started to create a membership base, and we have about 40 chapters around the country right now.”
Smilowitz said that the organization already has that many chapters even though it is still in its forming stage, and it has not officially launched itself to the public. The organization is modeled after a similar initiative that Smilowitz started in high school, which he said eventually led to more than 200 chapters in all 50 states.
“People say students don’t have issues,” said Smilowitz. “People say that since Vietnam, there hasn’t been anything that students have had to campaign for or against. But if you look at funding decisions concerning education, there are loans and grants that are being cut back on non-election years.”
“Also, there are a lot of high school students who can’t vote and a lot of them get shut out,” he added. “They have to deal with curfews and random drug testing, things that should be and I believe are unconstitutional. They need representation, and they need to rely on adults. There are few organizations that represent students who are main stream and recognized. If other groups can organize, students can do it too.”
For more information about the National Student Advisory Alliance visit www.studentwatchdog.org.
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