"Today was a huge victory for us," Matt Segal the Executive Director of the Student Association of Student Empowerment (SAVE) said Thursday evening in an interview after testifying before the House Administration Committee on voting rights for young people.
This was the culmination of 5 months of SAVE members and volunteers working the Hill in efforts to educate Congress on the difficulties young voters face each election year.
These stories are not unique to us. Recently, even, we've heard about voter disenfranchisement affecting students. In Colorado and New Mexico as well as Virgina Tech students who are "being told that they risk losing their scholarship and tax dependency status if they register to vote in their college, as opposed to home, state."
At a time when CNN is talking about the League of First Time Voters and the issues that matter most to them, few are stopping to ask whether or not these young people or first time voters will ultimately be disenfranchised on Election Day and turned away from the polls. Despite the lack of cameras and fanfair for the SAVE volunteers, members of Congress were pleased with the young people who took the stand.
The day leading up to the hearing, SAVE even had a press conference with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and 9 other members of Congress, all who stood up for the rights of young voters.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, one of members of the 30 Something Caucus, congratulated SAVE on their work saying she was surprised in the progress that has been made in just a little over a year.
SAVE has also launched their campaign to SAVE VOTING RIGHTS along with Campus Advantage that works to help students with problems around housing issues, and Headcount a voter registration group that signs young people up at live music events.
Thursday's success wasn't easy. Segal and his friends began testifying on the Hill 4 years ago when along with the rest of Kenyon College, he was forced to stand in line for 10 hours just to vote. The question to the committee :
"What standards or safeguards are in place to ensure that Kenyon College 2004 can never happen again?"
The answer, sadly, is there is no guarantee, merely "recommendations." This is the first time students and young people have had an opportunity to air the issues that face them in Washington. There have been hearings on disenfranchisement for African Americans, Spanish speaking Americans, overseas troops, many different communities... but never one focusing on students. The first step in guaranteeing this occurs, happened today thanks to SAVE's hard work.
"This democracy isn’t going to save itself" Segal said, "young people are stepping up, and that’s an inspiring story. Its time they are able to do so without fear."
SAVE lacks the glamor and non-stop excitment many young voter organizations provide. Instead, they work in the sometimes ugly world of Washington to write laws behind the scenes. They've championed Capitol Hill advocacy and formed careful and key relationships to garner results. From 10 hour lines to standing with the Majority Leader, the hope is to move even further toward more hearings and further investigation after the election to guarantee students' votes are counted.
They have earned the reputation of a group that gets things done.
"We are damn persistent" Segal laughs, "But we’re polite about it."