In Legal Challenge, ACLU of Michigan Says New Law Hampers College Students' Voting Rights

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
February 24, 2000 12:00 am

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LANSING, MI — In an effort to preserve their voting rights, representatives from six university student assemblies today filed a lawsuit challenging a local requirement that a person’s driver’s license address and voter registration address be the same.

“This bill is going to encourage student apathy,” Windy Yager, a member of the student government at Central Michigan University. “Especially during an election year, it is vital that students play an active role.”

Because of their frequent moves within the collective community, students generally maintain a fixed driver’s license address at their family home. The law requires students to either frequently change their license addresses or maintain their license addresses at the family home.

As a result, students will be forced to return to their family homes on elections dates or vote by absentee ballot. Absentee ballots are more difficult and time-consuming to file, and will discourage students from voting in their college communities, the ACLU said.

“I’d have to drive 45 minutes each way just to vote under this bill,” Yager added. “Absentee ballots aren’t the answer, nor will they solve the problem of voter fraud which was one of the purposes behind this legislation.”

The ACLU lawsuit challenges the address requirement as an unconstitutional violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, Article 4 of the Michigan Constitution, and the National Voter Registration Act.

“Encouraging students to vote should be the first goal of state government,” said ACLU Cooperating Attorney Mary Ellen Gurewitz. “This statute is completely inconsistent with the National Voting Registration Act which the Sixth Circuit has ordered the state to comply with.”

If the law takes effect, she noted, college students will have to pay a significant price for the privilege of exercising their fundamental right to vote. There has been no evidence of voter fraud and state election procedures already in place are more than sufficient to prevent such a problem from arising.

“Students already have a deplorably low rate of voter turnout and this law attempts to silently drag students out of the democratic process,” said Abe Raffi, Chair of the ACLU student chapter at the University of Michigan.

The students are represented by Mary Ellen Gurewitz, of Sachs, Waldman, O’Hare, and Michael Steinberg and Kary Moss of the ACLU of Michigan.

Plaintiffs in the case are Yager, Melissa Gill, Robert Bacik and Andrew Coulouris, as well as the student assemblies of Central Michigan University, Ferris State University, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, and the University of Michigan.

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