The Michigan College Democrats are suing the state of Michigan for voting laws which they claim are too “restrictive” on Michigan college students, the Detroit News reported Aug. 31. Though Hillsdale College Democrats are not associated with the state chapter, they agree that the laws are an issue.
The lawsuit, filed by attorneys from the Perkins Coie law firm in Washington, D.C., less than 10 weeks before November elections, claims that Michigan laws “make registering and voting unduly confusing” and “places nearly insurmountable barriers between many young voters and their fundamental right to vote,” according to the report. Due to a 1999 law requiring voters’ drivers’ licenses and voter ID addresses to match, college students from Michigan are unable to register to vote in their school’s congressional district without having a drivers’ license address that matches their school address.
The suit says that this confusion about voting laws causes young voters to “vote at very low rates,” when coupled with the fact that citizens who registered to vote by mail must vote in person their first time.
The Hillsdale chapter of College Democrats separated from the national organization a few years ago, according to Hillsdale College Democrats President Madeline Hedrick, because there was not enough of a demand for it on campus. As a result, College Democrats on Hillsdale’s campus are not specifically affiliated with the suit. However, Hedrick said they still feel the Michigan voting laws are “unconscionable.”
“New Mexico, where I’m from, doesn’t have laws like this, but just looking at the laws that they are suing to get changed, and imagining if I was in that situation, I would be completely disenfranchised,” Hedrick said. “I’m not able to fly home for an election, and Michigan students who go to school out of state wouldn’t be able to fly home either. It doesn’t make any sense to me to have restrictions on absentee voting for first-time voters.”
Despite Michigan College Democrats’ concerns, however, college students from Michigan are still eligible to vote in their home district by using an absentee ballot, if they registered to vote in person.
Additionally, Fred Woodhams, media manager for Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, said that for the 20 years since the law was established, residents have “been able to conveniently update their address for both driver’s license and voting purposes,” and that it has not been an issue.
“It was a law passed 20 years ago, they’ve had many many opportunities to litigate it prior to this cycle,” Woodhams said. “I think either way the judges made it clear that the lawsuit wouldn’t be affecting anything in this election season.”
Woodhams explained that the office of the Secretary of State also sends a mobile office on a 3,000-mile tour to public universities before each major election, to make registering even easier for new voters. Though the mobile office does not visit Hillsdale College, students from Michigan who want to vote in Hillsdale can go to the county clerk’s office or city clerk’s office if they want to register to vote in those communities. Students not from Hillsdale County would need to change their drivers’ license address to match that of their new voter ID.
“It’s a very easy and simple process,” Woodhams said.
Assistant Professor of Politics Adam Carrington said he believes there is a good reason to request first-time voters who registered by mail to vote in person.
“While the laws in question here do place a particular burden on students, I don’t think those outweigh the concern with keeping out fraud,” Carrington said in an email. “There might be better ways, especially regarding the 2004 law about voting in person the first time, though I haven’t seen one. That said, these laws have a valid purpose and are reasonable means to pursue that purpose.”
Woodhams added that if the law were to change it may cause more confusion, rather than less.
“It doesn’t make sense that having two official addresses in state of Michigan is more convenient than having one address,” Woodhams said.
Students from Michigan are still able to vote in their home district by using an absentee ballot, unless they are a first-time voter and registered to vote by mail, in which case they are required to vote in person. Oct. 9 is the last day to register to vote in November elections in Michigan.