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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.

  • Jen­nifer Melfi

    Hillsdale College Democrats stand for democracy. Nice work.