State Rep. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) brought two bills intended to repeal a law that many believe impedes student voters before a state House committee in a hearing last Tuesday.
Warren’s legislation – which will come to a vote in front of the Committee of Ethics and Elections tomorrow – would allow Michigan citizens to register to vote without changing their permanent address.
Public Act 118, legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Brighton) in 1999 and popularly known as Rogers’s Law, requires Michigan residents register to vote using the same address as their driver’s license.
Under the law, students who live in Ann Arbor during the school year, but list their parents’ residence as their permanent address, must either change the address on their drivers’ license to Ann Arbor or vote using an absentee ballot.
First-time voters are not allowed to vote absentee and must vote in person in the district of their permanent address – a major inconvenience for students who can’t make it home on election day, Warren said.
Students who choose to change their permanent address to Ann Arbor must update it each time they move around campus, she said.
Warren said her aim in drafting the bills was to make voting as accessible as possible for all populations.
Rogers’s Law undermines the student population’s influence in shaping state law, she said.
Doug Novak and Chris Thomas, directors in the Secretary of State’s office testified in opposition to the proposed legislation.
Novak and Thomas said creating a system where voters have two addresses would be too complicated and expensive for their offices to implement.
“We view these bills as a step backwards,” Novak said. “Right now it’s pretty simple – you have one residence.”
Novak suggested ways of improving voting for students including automatically registering 16-year-olds to vote when they get their drivers’ licenses to eliminate the hassle of registering after their eighteenth birthday and allowing first-time voters to use absentee ballots.
Novak said Warren’s bills could lead to an increase in voter fraud and administrative errors because they would make it more difficult to track voters since the Secretary of State would have them in its database under two addresses.
Warren said her research showed that voter fraud doesn’t pose a significant threat to the state’s voting process.
“It’s not voter fraud that’s been a problem,” she said. “What’s more been a problem is low voter turnout.”
Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum said he doesn’t think the Secretary of State concerns about the bills are valid.
The bills would not make administering elections any more difficult for Michigan clerks, Kestenbaum said.
But Kestenbaum isn’t in favor of repealing Rogers’ Law either.
He said he opposed the legislation when it was first passed because it seemed like a ploy by Rogers and Republican legislators to stifle student voters.
Kestenbaum said he now approves of the system because students are realizing that changing their permanent addresses isn’t complicated. The state automatically changes people’s drivers’ license addresses when they register to vote at a new address.
“I think there was a bit of a bug-a-boo that was created at first,” Kestenbaum said. “Once people got over the fear of having their permanent address changed they were comfortable with it.”
Another concern Warren brought up in her proposal was the risk students face of losing their health insurance. Once students change their permanent address from their parents’ residence, their status as their parents’ dependant is jeopardized.
Warren suggested a separate voter identification number that would follow voters if they move within the state, but said she would be open to a separate voting address that the state would send out on a sticker to be placed on the back of a driver’s license.
Public Policy junior Peri Weisberg, LSA sophomore Kalen Pruss and LSA junior Neil Campbell testified at the hearing in support of Warren’s legislation.
Pruss said that when she worked to register student voters last fall, the main problem she encountered was that many students are afraid of losing their healthcare.
“There shouldn’t be a fear,” she said. “(Rogers’ Law) is an unnecessary obstacle.”
State Rep. Tom Pearce (R-Kent County) asked the students about the possibility of student voters altering local politics in a district where they will likely only live for a few years.
“The same things can be said for voting in local districts,” Pruss said. “A lot of students don’t immediately move back.”
University alum Pete Woiwode, who chaired the Michigan Student Assembly’s voter-registration commission Voice Your Vote, also spoke in favor of Warren’s legislation.
It should be a priority of the state to encourage young people to adopt voting as a regular part of their lives by making the process easier, Woiwode said.
Past attacks on
February 2000, the American Civil Liberties Union filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against Rogers’s Law, less than 12 months after it was enacted. Then-Michigan Student Assembly vice president Andy Coulouris represented MSA as part of the plaintiff alongside student governments from across the state.
September 2004, state Sen. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor) proposed four bills that would repeal Rogers’s Law and allow students to vote with absentee ballots in their first election, but the bills weren’t signed into law.