The war on voting weakens youth power

After participating in a number of organizing campaigns in Los Angeles, including SEIU’s effort to unionize security workers and registering voters for the National Hip-Hop Political Convention, I returned to my hometown in 2004 to organize young voters in Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods. While there are number of built-in obstacles preventing poor African Americans from fully engaging in the civic process, Wisconsin’s previously forward-leaning election administration rules, including same-day registration, lowered the barriers and made participation less burdensome. In fact, despite apathy, high incarceration rates and intense poverty, young people of color in Milwaukee have consistently turned out in record numbers. Not surprisingly, since 2004, Wisconsin’s young voters of all racial and economic backgrounds have consistently led the nation in voter turnout.

At the end of the day, that’s what Voter ID bills like this one are all about: disenfranchising young people. While many people on the left have tried to make this about the president’s re-election bid, these efforts silence OUR ability to build power for our generation, especially at the local level, where politics is often its nastiest. These expensive obstacles (the bill will cost the state $2 million) prevent us from being able to negotiate at the seats of power when policymakers decide how they will invest our tax dollars. At a time when both parties lack refreshing and bold ideas, I believe it is absolutely necessary for young people to be involved in the process. How else are we going to make sure that elected officials tackle the crippling levels of youth unemployment that impact our generation?

Of course, we’re not just going to lie down and let our votes be stolen. The League and other local organizations will be joining forces with other national groups like Rock The Vote to ensure that nearly 50 percent of 18-24 year-olds that don’t have ID get the proper identification to turn out to the polls. After all, while the new restrictions make it harder for us to organize, they have strengthened our resolve to get our folks involved. 

Rob “Biko” Baker is the executive director of the League of Young Voters Education Fund. He has organized town hall meetings and used social networking to motivate young people to get involved in the civic process. Baker has also served as the deputy publicity coordinator and young voter organizer for the Brown and Black Presidential Forum.


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