Recording reveals top Republican wants to stop students voting

Key Trump adviser warns party backers about the dangers they now face from easier registration and voting processes on campuses

April 24, 2023
Source: iStock

A leading Republican strategist has reportedly called for a concerted effort to block voting on US college campuses, warning that students are becoming a major problem for the party’s electoral prospects.

Cleta Mitchell, a leading adviser to Donald Trump during his attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, offered the assessment at a meeting earlier this month in Nashville of Republican National Committee donors, according to a recording distributed by a progressive political activist, Lauren Windsor.

“We need to be looking at where are these college campus locations” with easy voting options, Ms Mitchell, a lawyer and former elected member of the Oklahoma state House of Representatives, told the party gathering, according to the audio posted to Twitter by Ms Windsor.

Ms Mitchell complained in particular about an election earlier this month in the state of Wisconsin, where voters chose an outspoken proponent of abortion rights to serve on the state’s Supreme Court, flipping the court’s ideological balance from conservative control for the first time in 15 years.

Backers of the victorious judge, Janet Protasiewicz, had the goal of having 240,000 college students vote in the race, Ms Mitchell told her party donors, according to the recording. “Wisconsin is a big problem because of the polling locations on college campuses,” Ms Mitchell said. Republicans must figure out “how to combat that”, she said. Judge Protasiewicz won with about 55 per cent of 1.8 million votes cast.

Republican party officials did not respond to requests for comment on the reported comments by Ms Mitchell.

Outside political experts described the situation as confirmation that US colleges and universities and their students were successfully reversing the long-standing reputation of students as more willing to protest than actually vote.

“The Republicans have known for some time now that they have a serious problem with young voters, and it’s getting worse,” said Larry Sabato, a professor of politics and director of the Centre for Politics at the University of Virginia.

In the posted audio, Ms Mitchell complained about some states creating easier registration processes and allowing voting over several days. She also called for Republican-led states to toughen voter identification requirements. Studies have repeatedly shown that voter fraud is rare in the US, and that increasing barriers to voting disproportionately favour conservative candidates.

Ms Mitchell addressed the event shortly after the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University issued another report affirming the growth in voting among younger Americans – and college students in particular – after decades of being one of the worst-performing categories of voters.

This month’s report by the centre, also known as Circle, showed that youth turnout by state in last year’s elections ranged from 13 per cent to 37 per cent, with variations tied in many cases to the ease with which people can vote.

Ms Mitchell recognised that same dynamic in warning about the effects of situations such as North Carolina, one of the US states where polling places are located on campuses. “What is this young-people effort that they do?” she complained to the Republican party donors. “They basically put the polling place next to the student dorms so they just have to roll out of bed, vote and go back to bed.”

The question of allowing student identification cards as valid voter identification is especially consequential, said Terren Klein, the chief executive officer and a co-founder of College Pulse, a research firm focused on student attitudes.

Nearly half of all college students lack an alternative form of identification, according to College Pulse survey data. As an example of the importance of that right, Mr Klein said, there are more psychology majors enrolled at the University of New Hampshire than the total number of votes that separated Hillary Clinton and Mr Trump in the state in the 2016 presidential election.

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