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Where Can and Should College Students Vote?

- October 20, 2008

bq. Do students who go away to school have a choice about whether to register and vote in their home town or in their college town? Federal and state laws are ambiguous on the point. As a result, communities vary widely in their approaches to voting by college students, ranging from a nearly complete absence of restrictions (other than attending a college in the state) to obvious efforts to discourage all such registrations. We determine that states cannot exclude students as a group from voting in their college town and cannot make it more difficult for students than for others to register (including by asking them about residential permanence or “student-directed” questions). Yet, we find that states do have a right to require that those who wish to vote in that jurisdiction demonstrate other indicia associated with residence, such as availability for jury duty, paying taxes, and gaining that jurisdiction’s driver’s license. We go on to note ways in which states and localities wrongly apply the laws in what seems to be an effort to prevent students from voting in their college towns.

That’s from a new paper by Richard Niemi, Michael Hanmer, and Thomas Jackson. Some of the most interesting parts of the paper result from phone calls to various counties, in which Niemi et al. uncovered a startling range of attitudes toward registering college students:

bq. Thus, in the extreme, the “rules” might even depend on when you showed up in the registrar’s office and whom you spoke to.

Find the paper here.

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