Michigan Republicans Accused of Suppressing Youth Vote

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (CN) – Michigan College Democrats filed a federal lawsuit aiming to end a Republican-created state law they say is confusing in-state college students and suppressing their vote.

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Filed Thursday in Ann Arbor federal court by lead attorney Marc Elias with Perkins Coie, the complaint attacks the constitutionality of Roger’s Law, or Public Act 118, a Republican-backed statute that requires matching addresses for driver’s licenses and voter registration forms.

The 1999 law creates confusion among many students who live on college campuses but use a Michigan family address for other purposes, which prevents them from voting, according to the Michigan Federation of College Democrats and its local chapters at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.

Another 2004 regulation throws young voters into uncertainty by requiring that if they register to vote by mail or through a voting drive on campus, they cast their vote in-person the first time, depriving them of the ability to use an absentee ballot, the lawsuit states.

The College Democrats want to overturn the laws for alleged violations of the First, 14th and 26th Amendments of the Constitution, claiming they discriminate against young voters.

“While Public Act 118 and the first-time/in-person requirement independently make registering and voting unduly confusing and difficult for young voters, in combination, they place nearly insurmountable barriers between many young voters and their fundamental right to vote,” the lawsuit states.

The Democratic student groups claim Roger’s Law overwhelmingly affects young voters and college students who may worry about the consequences of changing their driver’s license address. According to the complaint, students are sometimes uncertain about whether they must keep their parents’ address on their licenses to keep health care plans, maintain dependent status on family tax filings, and qualify for scholarships and financial aid.

“The fact that many of Michigan’s student voters may wish to maintain, for the years during which they are attending college, their family’s home address as their permanent residence address on their driver’s license, should not disqualify them from voting in the communities where they attend school and live for the vast majority of the year,” the complaint states.

President Barack Obama won the 2008 and 2012 general elections in Michigan. President Donald Trump narrowly beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election by about 10,700 votes, and the state is a battleground in November’s midterm election.

According to voting rights advocates, Michigan has some of the most restrictive voting regulations in the nation.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and Promote the Vote accused election officials in the state of obstructing a ballot initiative calling for same-day voter registration and no-reason absentee voting.

On Aug. 1, a federal judge in Detroit permanently blocked the state from banning straight-party voting, ruling that the prohibition discriminates against African-Americans.

Americans born since 1965 make up almost 60 percent of the electorate, but if past voting patterns hold they are unlikely to cast the majority of votes in November, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

In the 2014 midterm election, eligible Generation X, millennial and post-millennial voters cast 21 million fewer votes than voters in older generations, Pew found.

Pew’s research shows that 20 percent of college-aged millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, voted during midterm elections between 2002 and 2014, compared to 26 percent of baby boomers in midterms between 1978 and 1986.

According to Friday’s lawsuit, young voters in Michigan are the target of rules created to weaken their voting power.

“As a consequence, young voters in Michigan vote at very low rates: the difference between overall turnout and youth turnout is now larger in Michigan than in any other state,” the complaint states.

Neither the plaintiffs’ attorney, Elias, nor the Michigan Department of State immediately responded Tuesday to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

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