NC GOP pushing poll tax to stop Dem-leaning college kids from voting

A bill filed in the North Carolina General Assembly this week would remove the state income tax deduction for dependents who register at an address other than their parents.  In other words, parents of college kids would be punished with a new tax if their kids registered to vote at school – thus pressuring the kids not to register to vote.

With this bill, it appears that we have found the one tax Republicans actually like: a poll tax.

As you’ll recall, a poll tax was legislation commonly used in southern states (as part of a larger package of racist Jim Crow laws) to stop African-Americans, among others, from voting. Poll taxes were often justified as measures for bringing in revenue, a claim also being used to justify this legislation.

The bill would also require vehicle registration to correspond with voter registration – since college students tend to keep their cars registered at home, this would also cut down on students voting – and has been incorporated into an omnibus bill that would restrict early voting and eliminate same-day voter registration.

North Carolina poll tax is intended to stop Democratic-leaning students from voting

The practical impact of the legislation is that it would cut into Democratic dominance in several counties in which Democrats rely on the student vote.  It’s also a swipe at national Democrats – the youth vote was critical to Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina:

In North Carolina, Obama won the state, taking 74% of the under 30s but losing all the older age groups.

And the youth vote nationwide continued to buoy Obama in 2012 as well.  Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post explained how the youth vote is now an indispensable part of winning national elections:

The youth vote is no longer dismissible: In 2008, then candidate Obama promised to energize the youth vote like no candidate had done before him. Eyes rolled — including ours.  But Obama was right.  Voters aged 18-29 comprised 18 percent of the electorate in 2008 and Obama won them by 34 points.  Surely, skeptics insisted, that showing was a one-off — built around Obama’s nonpartisan call for “hope” and “change.” Or not. According to the latest national exit polling, 19 percent of the electorate was aged 18-29 and Obama won that group by 24 points. Once is an anomaly. Twice is a new political reality. The only question going forward is whether the youth vote is tied to President Obama uniquely or whether it is an advantage for Democrats more broadly.

And if the Republicans can’t get young people to vote for their intolerant and retrograde policies, they’ll simply stop them from voting all together.

GOP poll tax sponsors know college students are less likely to vote absentee

Empirical analysis has shown that college students are less likely to vote if they use the absentee balloting process than if they do so in person, and black students are even less likely to take advantage of the absentee process than their white counterparts.

Voting is an exercise in collective action; citizens in general, not just young ones, are less likely to vote if it is turned into an individual pursuit. Matters between you and your neighbors or classmates are more likely to be taken seriously than matters between you and your P.O. box.  In other words, your P.O. box won’t judge you if you don’t honor your social commitments by not voting.

Moreover, what the old, white North Carolina Republicans who are good at snail-mail (Representative Bill Cook, the bill’s sponsor, looks like he’s sent a few letters in his day) realize all too well is that young, diverse college students are quite the opposite: they’re really bad at snail-mail. Expecting college students to locate an absentee ballot request form, print it out, fill it out, mail it to the correct registrar’s office, retrieve their ballot in a timely manner, fill that out and mail it back is a losing (or, if you’re a North Carolina Republican, winning) proposition.

Regardless, the issue here isn’t why college students don’t vote absentee, it’s that Republicans know they don’t, and are using that fact to stop college kids from voting all together since they don’t vote for enough Republicans.  The GOP is crafting legislation intended to stop college kids from voting, lest they vote more Democratic than Republican.

GOP poll tax supporters claim they’re sparing students the “abuse” of voting

Jay DeLancy of the NC Voter Integrity Project cited a case, in which college students in Buncombe County ostensibly changed the outcome of a race for a county commission seat in 2012, to argue that the bill wasn’t restricting students’ right to vote, it was actually protecting them:

“That race showed how easily college students can be manipulated like pawns…These bills will protect students from such abuse.”

Poll tax via Wikipedia.

Poll tax via Wikipedia.

The idea that students are abusing themselves by voting, or that groups seeking to increase voter turnout are abusing students by encouraging them to vote, is laughable. It’s not a politician’s job, nor is it Mr. DeLancy’s, to determine who should and shouldn’t be permitted to vote.  And if we were to vitiate the vote of any voter we deem gullible, there wouldn’t be a lot of Republicans in office.

Moreover, to put it in terms Republicans can understand, it would seem that parents of North Carolina college students ought to be protected from the unnecessary and punitive tax increase they would face if their children dare to grow up and vote like functioning adults.

In any case, it appears that North Carolinians need to be protected from their government’s absurd, malicious attempts to raise their taxes at the expense of their ability to vote.

And the Republicans wonder why young people don’t vote for them.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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