GOP bill scraps voter registration requirements for colleges

House Republicans are pushing a higher education bill that scraps requirements for colleges and universities to alert students to register to vote.

As part of legislation rewriting the laws governing colleges and universities, Republicans left out provisions added in 1998 and 2008 to ensure that schools make a good-faith effort to distribute voter registration forms to students enrolled at their institutions.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee approved the bill late Tuesday in a 23-17 party-line vote that largely went under the radar.

{mosads}It would nix language requiring that schools request voter registration forms from their state at least 120 days before the voter registration deadline, and send students an “electronic communication” exclusively about voter registration.

It also eliminates language specifying schools are required to follow these requirements for general and special federal elections, state gubernatorial elections and elections for chief executives within the state.  

The proposed legislation, known as the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, only says that schools must “make a good faith effort to distribute, including through electronic transmission, voter registration forms to students enrolled and physically in attendance at the institution.’’

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) offered an amendment to reinstate the requirements during the committee vote, but Republicans rejected it.

“What we’ve been doing so far at colleges and universities has led to success in getting more people to vote so why would we stop now,” Krishnamoorthi told The Hill on Wednesday. “It’s very disappointing to say the least.”

Democrats say the bills are simply an effort by Republicans to lower voter turnout by young people.

College campuses have traditionally been a source of votes for Democratic candidates.

Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) found that young voters ages 18 to 29 supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election over Donald Trump 55 percent to 37 percent.  

The National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, an initiative through the school’s Institute for Democracy and Higher Education found that student voter turnout rose three percentage points from 2012 to 2016. 

“I think it’s part of the agenda,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who accused Republicans of trying to suppress student turnout.

It can also be difficult for students moving from one state to another for school to know about their new state’s voter registration requirements.

“If it’s more difficult for young people to know that once they are in a given state, if they are from out of state, that they have the right to register in that state then it’s less people they need to contend with that usually overwhelmingly vote against them,” said Grijalva.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said the committee was merely enacting the American Council on Education’s (ACE) recommendation to streamline the requirements. 

“This did not come from Republicans specifically,” she said at Tuesday night’s markup. “This came from the American Council on Education, which asked us to do exactly what we did.”

Anne Meehan, director of government relations at ACE, said institutions are not opposed to helping students register and be civically engaged, but the previous provisions were poorly written and created confusion. ACE is a higher education association that represents presidents of accredited degree-granting institutions, including two-year and four-year public and private colleges. 

She said the recommendation to simplify the voter register requirements came from the Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education, which a bipartisan group of Senators created in 2013.

“I don’t think there’s a concern that schools can’t figure out how to make a good faith effort,” she said. “I think they want to make sure they aren’t having the federal government prescribing in great detail how it’s supposed to be.”

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) told The Hill students don’t need the help of universities to register to vote.

“I personally believe our students at these universities are smarter than that,” he said. “They register for all sorts of things at school.”

Walberg denied Grijava’s claim that Republicans are trying to keep students from voting against them.

“I have all sorts of young people who vote for me,” he said. “Young people listen, they read, they support people who they believe support the things they desire to have. I believe there are a lot of young people out there who aren’t looking for more government they are looking for less government.”

Young Invincibles, an advocacy group fighting the new bill, and 42 other groups told committee members in a recent letter that students arriving on campus in August have a short window to meet voter registration deadlines and may miss the opportunity to vote if they are given voter registration information too late.

“Having long served as incubators of young adult civic engagement, institutions of higher education can offer students a smooth entry into our democratic process by helping to reduce any ambiguity and uncertainty around registering and voting,” the groups said.

Krishnamoorthi’s amendment would have also made the provisions apply to the six states — Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming — now exempt because they either have same-day voter registration at polling places or do not require voter registration.

He rebuffed Walberg’s assertion that students don’t need help.  

“When I was in college, looking back, I could have been told a lot of things I would have liked to have known then, and I only learned the hard way later on,” he said.

“Voting is like civic hygiene, it’s like brushing your teeth. You’ve just got to do it, but you’ve got to get into the habit.”

Krishnamoorthi said he’s thinking of offering the amendment again when the bill comes to the floor for a vote but has other amendments to offer that were voted down by the committee, including one to help homeless and foster youth get assistance to go to college.

Tags Donald Trump Education Hillary Clinton Raja Krishnamoorthi Tim Walberg Virginia Foxx

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