Cleta Mitchell, a video still from US Representative Tom Cole’s website.
Audio reveals top GOP lawyer’s 2024 strategy: make it harder for college students to vote
by Jake Johnson — Common Dreams
A longtime Republican lawyer who aided former President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election told GOP donors that the party should be working to roll back voting on college campuses and other initiatives aimed at expanding ballot access, according to audio obtained by progressive journalist Lauren Windsor.
“What are these college campus locations?” Cleta Mitchell, a top GOP attorney and fundraiser asked during a presentation at the Republican National Committee’s donor retreat in Nashville last weekend.
“What is this young people effort that they do? They basically put the polling place next to the student dorm so they just have to roll out of bed, vote, and go back to bed,” lamented Mitchell, an avid voter suppression campaigner who has represented Republican organizations, individual lawmakers, and right-wing groups such as the National Rifle Association.
According to The Washington Post, which reviewed a copy of Mitchell’s Nashville presentation, the GOP attorney’s remarks “offered a window into a strategy that seems designed to reduce voter access and turnout among certain groups, including students and those who vote by mail, both of which tend to skew Democratic.”
“Mitchell focused on campus voting in five states—Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Virginia, and Wisconsin—all of which are home to enormous public universities with large in-state student populations,” the Post reported Thursday. “Mitchell also targeted the preregistration of students, an apparent reference to the practice in some states of allowing 17-year-olds to register ahead of their 18th birthdays so they can vote as soon as they are eligible.”
Ben Wikler, the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, noted in response to Mitchell’s presentation that “Wisconsin has 320,000 college students.”
“If the GOP had won the state Supreme Court race, they would’ve—as this speech makes clear—engineered a crackdown on student voter freedoms,” Wikler wrote on Twitter. “Instead, thanks in part to student turnout, democracy lives on in Wisconsin.”
“The Trump machine wants to disenfranchise students,” Wikler added. “We’re fighting them in WI. They’ve got their eye on our state, and NC and VA too.”
Republican lawmakers in dozens of states across the country have introduced at least 150 bills aimed at restricting ballot access this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
“Two of the more radical proposals include a Texas bill that would allow presidential electors to disregard state election results and a Virginia bill that would empower a random selection of residents to void local election results,” the group observed.
In her speech to Republican donors, Mitchell said GOP lawmakers should be using their dominance in state legislatures to “combat” voting by college students and measures such as same-day voter registration.
Mitchell pointed specifically to North Carolina, where Republicans now have veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers thanks to erstwhile Democratic state Rep. Tricia Cotham, who recently switched parties.
“Instead of fighting for the people or actually earning the votes, Republicans’ only plan is to try to ‘combat’ voting on college campuses and prevent students and young people from participating in our democracy,” Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) wrote Thursday. “They are SHAMELESSLY and DESPERATELY saying the quiet part out loud.”
The New York Timesreported last month that Republicans, “alarmed over young people increasingly proving to be a force for Democrats at the ballot box,” have already been “trying to enact new obstacles to voting for college students” in recent weeks.
“In Idaho, Republicans used their power monopoly… to ban student ID cards as a form of voter identification,” the newspaper reported. “But so far this year, the new Idaho law is one of few successes for Republicans targeting young voters. Attempts to cordon off out-of-state students from voting in their campus towns or to roll back preregistration for teenagers have failed in New Hampshire and Virginia.”
“Even in Texas, where 2019 legislation shuttered early voting sites on many college campuses, a new proposal that would eliminate all college polling places seems to have an uncertain future,” the Times added.
The intensifying GOP campaign against youth voting comes after young people had a major impact on the 2022 midterms. As researchers noted in a recent analysis for the Brookings Institution, strong enthusiasm and turnout among young voters “enabled the Democrats to win almost every battleground statewide contest and increase their majority in the US Senate.”
“To the GOP: I hope you’re afraid,” tweeted Olivia Julianna, director of politics and government affairs at Gen-Z for Change. “I hope you wake up every morning haunted by the chants of young voters protesting your attacks on our rights. You should be afraid. Because you’re going to lose power, one vote at a time.”
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