It is not uncommon to hear politicians
blather on and on about the need to include young people and
particularly college students in the political process. This is one
of the time-tested tropes of campaign seasons – a staple of
political appearances at colleges and universities across the
nation. As soon as the campaigns end and the business of governing
begins, the picture changes significantly. When push comes to shove
in the legislative arena, politicians tend to disregard student
concerns. Why is this the case? Because students simply do not
storm the ballot box in significant numbers. The traditional
explanations for this sector of the population’s low turnout at the
polls – apathy, ambivalence and ignorance – partially explain the
phenomenon. But there are also politically-constructed impediments
that prevent students from exercising their political power. In
Michigan these barriers to political participation are especially
troubling.

One state regulation that prevents students from voting is the
rule that says the address on a driver’s license must match the
address on a voter’s registration. Since students are from
different areas, this can be extremely inconvenient. If a student
wishes to vote in Ann Arbor he or she would have to change the
permanent address on the driver’s license to match the often
temporary address under which he or she would have to register.
This can be inconvenient because a student may have to change the
permanent address on both his or her driver’s license and voter
registration card to vote in elections over the years, during which
a student may move to and from several residences.

One way to avoid the problem of constantly changing a permanent
address is to vote at home. Unless someone is from Ann Arbor or
Ypsilanti they must vote using an absentee ballot to vote in their
home district. Absentee ballots are a very convenient tool for
political participation, but there is a serious flaw in the law
that prevents the absentee system from being utilized to the
maximum extent. Michigan law stipulates that in order to vote using
an absentee ballot you must first vote in an election in person.
Since many students do not become eligible to vote until they have
begun their college careers, some in-state students will have to
drive home on election day to exercise their right to vote. Other
students – including those who lack cars, live out-of-state or have
exams or papers due on election day – won’t cast ballots at all.
The ultimate effect of the absentee ballot regulation is the
effective political marginalization of a sizable chunk of the
student population.

Another major problem with voting is the amount of time required
between registration and voting. In Michigan a potential voter must
register 30 days prior to the election. Minnesota has successfully
implemented a same-day voter registration program. Michigan ought
to follow suit and institute an election day registration procedure
that allows for voting and registration at the same time.

The Michigan Student Assembly passed a resolution last week
supporting a proposal in the Michigan Legislature that would exempt
college students from the requirement that a driver’s license must
match the voter’s registration. This proposal is a significant one
in which a barrier to student political activity would be
completely eliminated, and if members of the Legislature are truly
interested in fostering politically active youth, they will vote to
pass it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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