Michigan Primary Trouble: The Final Snag?

The politics of this are crystal clear. The Obama campaign did not want a Michigan re-vote or a Florida re-vote. So they've raised objection after objection. Some of them have been spurious and others have been valid.

Last night, the following objection began to make the rounds:

In Michigan, there is a law stating that the first time you vote, you have to do so in-person, and can only request an absentee after doing that initial in-person verification. This would obviously be a huge problem for Obama folks, as pretty much all college students are newly registered. Some will be stuck at school and can't vote absentee from home; others will be newly registered at their school and won't be able to vote there as they will be home as summer will have begun.

Well, this is so because a Michigan law passed by a Republican-controlled legislature in the mid-1990s prohibits students from being registered to vote at a different address than their driver's license. And Michigan's motor vehicle laws require that persons must be registered to vote at their residence address. Because many college students change their residence during college and many remain on their parents' auto insurance policy, most keep their address on their driver's license at their parents' home, not at a college address. Changing the driver's license address regularly as they move back and forth and around campus would be a hassle and costly. That means it's generally easier for Michigan college students to keep their home address on their driver's license and easier to vote at home than on campus.

An expert explained the problem to me:

The real problem for college students generally comes in a general election in November. Most students are on campus then and it is a difficult time to travel home to vote (although some do travel home on Election Day just to vote). Witness the 2000 congressional elections in which U.S. Rep Mike Rogers defeated State Rep. Dianne Byrum by less than 200 votes to take the seat vacated by Debbie Stabenow. Many college students at Michigan State University were unable to vote on campus due to their driver's license addresses. Reports were in the hundreds. Many credit this restriction is credited with Rogers' narrow victory. In fact, many refer to the driver's license restriction as the Rogers' Law.

A June election, in contrast, when students are home, actually may result in higher student turnout because more students are home near the polling place for the address on their driver's license. It's easier to vote in person or get an absentee ballot from their home clerk when they are home and not on campus.

But just to assume that June is more difficult for college students because school is out is an assumption made by someone who doesn't really understand all of the issues with college student voting in Michigan caused by laws passed by Republicans in the 1990s.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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