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Limiting the student vote in Indiana

By Scott Tibbs, March 13, 2013

Some Republican state legislators (and some Republicans in Monroe County) are supporting House Bill 1311, which declares that "a person does not gain residency in a precinct into which the person moves for educational purposes if the person pays a nonresident tuition rate." I've seen two lines of argument on this bill: First, out-of-state students have little interest in local government but local people have to deal with the choices they make after those students are gone. Second, the legislation is needed to prevent voter fraud.

I voted here when I was a student - the first election I voted in was the 1995 city election. (Much to my shame, I did not vote in 1992 or 1994 despite being of legal voting age. I have voted in every election since, however.) City government affects students on matters such as trash collection, fire protection, road construction and new apartment complexes. Even township government affects students, as we saw when the Bloomington Township Fire Department's hazmat team responded to bioterrorism alerts shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The proposal to limit voting by students who pay out-of-state tuition is not a good idea, and we need to be realistic here: the law will be thrown out if it is passed and signed into law. Beyond the Supreme Court case on student voting rights from the 1970's, the Indiana Constitution is clear that "A citizen of the United States who is at least eighteen (18) years of age and who has been a resident of a precinct thirty (30) days immediately preceding an election may vote in that precinct at the election."

If we are concerned about fraud and/or double voting, we can require that students who come here from another county or state prove their registration at home has been canceled, and we can implement reforms to allow for easier purging of students from the voter rolls after they have moved away - perhaps by requiring that they show they have an active lease, either with a private landlord or university housing. Those measures would be more sensible (and more legal) than a blanket ban on voting by out-of-state students.

Furthermore, this is politically unwise. Telling students we do not want them to vote here will not help Republicans convince students to vote for our candidates. It is not like the Republicans have never fared well with students. After all, it was only ten years ago when Democrats were in a panic about student votes costing them the 2003 city election. Republicans may never win the student vote outright, but we can reduce our margin of loss on and around campus, putting our candidates within striking distance.

This politically short-sighted and legally indefensible legislation should never have been proposed.