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New bills to ease student voting

BY JAMEEL NAQVI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 20, 2004

For most people, registering to vote can be a painless process
that takes fewer than 10 minutes to complete at the City
Clerk’s Office. But state college students face too many
procedural barriers to registration, Sen. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor)
said yesterday. Brater says a four-bill package she introduced last
week would remove these hurdles.

“Every citizen deserves equal access to the political
process,” she said in a speech delivered to a handful of
students in the Wolverine Room of the Michigan Union yesterday.

Michigan Student Assembly Vice President Jennifer Nathan, who
also spoke at the event, said any complication in the registration
process, however minor, depresses voter turnout.

“You’re not going to be inclined to vote when the
process is so difficult,” she said.

Brater conceded that her package, which she hopes will help
reverse a “downward trajectory” in rates of voting
among college-aged citizens, has no chance of passage in time for
this year’s elections.

“I don’t expect even to get a hearing on this
issue,” she said, blaming the Republicans, who currently
control both houses of the state Legislature.

One part of Brater’s package would allow first-time
voters, including many University students who want to vote in
their hometown elections, to register by mail even if they wish to
submit an absentee ballot. Existing laws require first-time voters
to register in person to receive absentee ballots.

“That is something that very clearly disenfranchises
students,” said College Democrats Secretary Courtney Skiles,
an LSA senior. “Students don’t have the resources to
travel to their Secretary of State (Branch Office),” she
added. “Brater’s legislation would eliminate one more
significant barrier to students voting.”

Brater’s proposed legislation would also allow a student
to vote on campus without having to affix a change-of-address
sticker to the back of his driver’s license.

Brater encouraged students to vote in Ann Arbor’s
elections.

“Students are very affected by local issues,” she
said.

“I don’t see much of an advantage to voting in Ann
Arbor as opposed to your hometown,” said Students for Bush
Chair Scott Foley, explaining that Democrats will win most of the
races and issues in the city. But he encouraged students from
solidly Republican or Democratic states to vote in Michigan, which
is seen as a swing state in the upcoming presidential election.

Skiles also said Michigan’s contested electoral votes make
it important for students to vote in the state.

Another bill would permit citizens to submit absentee ballots
without providing an excuse, which is currently required under
state law. This would have a minimal impact on students, for whom
school is a legitimate excuse for not being present at their
designated polling places on Election Day. The bill would allow
citizens who are unable to vote in person to participate in their
local elections.

Foley said many students are unaware that as a result of a 2000
law, the address on their driver’s licenses must match the
address on their Voter Identification Cards.

Referring to the 2000 law, Brater said, “That had the
intended consequence of disenfranchising many students on Michigan
campuses.” Public Act 118, enacted shortly before the 2000
elections, was challenged four years ago by MSA and five other
student assemblies, but it passed legal muster in court.

Brater accused former state Sen. Mike Rogers, whose district
included the Michigan State University campus, of sponsoring the
act to intentionally depress the student vote. In the 2000
elections, Rogers won a seat in the U.S. House by a narrow margin
of victory. Brater attributed Rogers’s victory to the
negative effect his legislation had on the participation of MSU
students.

By the same token, Brater, who is up for re-election in 2006,
and another sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Virgil Bernero
(D-Lansing), both could benefit from the package if it has its
intended effect of increasing rates of voting on college
campuses.

Students can check if they are registered to vote in Michigan by
going to www.sospublius.org. If they are registered, the website
will tell the address of their polling location.

Those not registered to vote in Ann Arbor, including first-time
voters and students registered elsewhere, can do so at the City
Clerk’s Office on the second floor of City Hall at 100 N.
Fifth Ave. Mail-in registration forms are available at
www.michigan.gov/sos. Completed forms should be mailed to the City
Clerk’s Office.

Students who wish to participate in their hometown elections may
either register at or submit the mail-in form to their local
clerk’s office. First-time voters who pursue the latter
option forfeit the right to submit an absentee ballot.

All newly registered voters and those who have changed their
addresses should receive their voter I.D. cards in the mail within
three weeks of completing the registration process. Students who do
not receive their I.D. cards within three weeks should contact the
clerk’s office of the city where they registered to vote.

“There are many hindrances to voting if you’re a
student,” Skiles said. But she said that it is misconception
that the registration process is difficult.

“It’s easy because of the concerted effort that
students are making to register voters,” she said.
“Registering to vote is a really simple process. It takes
maybe 30 seconds to one minute to fill in your address and sign the
form.”

“The problem is the lack of education of what the specific
rules are,” Foley said. “You have to really seek out
the specific rules.”

But he added that although there may be security reasons for
current voting laws, Brater’s proposed legislation
“certainly simplifies” the voting process.