Indiana wants to strip (some) students of right to vote

Indiana State Representatives Peggy Mayfield (R-Martinsville) and Jim Baird (R-Greencastle) have introduced a bill to revamp parts of Indiana’s election code. One part of that bill would block some college students from being able to register to vote.

As introduced, House Bill 1311 reads, in part:

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’m not sure if most people realize that the standard for being considered a “resident” for the purpose of tuition is much stricter than other definitions of residency. For tax purposes, you’re a full-year resident if you “maintain your legal residence in Indiana from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.” (cf. IC 6-3-1-12) For driver’s licenses, it’s even more complicated – here’s the example the BMV gives on its website:

A person who is enrolled as a student in a Commercial Driver License training school in Indiana and has a legal residence in another state, but is living in Indiana temporarily for the express purpose of truck driver training, is considered to be an Indiana resident.

However, being in Indiana solely for “educational purposes” doesn’t count for the BMV. Confused yet? I know I am. (Apparently, CDL training school doesn’t count as “educational purposes”?)

If this bill had become law a few years ago, my wife would have been unable to vote, despite the fact she was (1) married to a lifelong Indiana resident, and (2) a resident of the state for more than 2 years, and has lived here since. Since my wife moved to Indiana for graduate school, she was ineligible for in-state tuition, even after we first got married.

Here’s a section from IU’s frequently asked questions about residency for the sake of in-state tuition:

Although marriage to a resident of Indiana is one of the factors considered in the determination of predominant purpose, the existence of this factor does not require a finding of resident status. However, after providing convincing evidence that the marriage has changed a student’s predominant purpose for being in Indiana, a nonresident student may be eligible for reclassification to resident student status 12 months after the date of marriage.

So it’s possible to live full-time in Indiana for years, be married to a Hoosier, expect to live here, pay taxes as a full time resident, and still not receive in-state tuition. And now Ms. Mayfield and Mr. Baird want to strip a person like that of their right to vote in the community where they live and work and pay taxes.

The in-state tuition requirements clearly disqualify anyone who moves here for the purpose of attending school. That applies even to graduate students like my wife, who came here to work on both a Masters and Ph.D., knowing that she would probably need to be here at least 6 or 7 years.

If Indiana is serious about keeping more college graduates, do we really want to tell them that they may live here and pay taxes here, but now they won’t be able to vote here?

I guess these Republicans are annoyed that their Voter ID laws haven’t accomplished their goal of preventing Democrats from winning elections, so they’re going even further – stopping Democratic-leaning groups from even registering to vote. (Especially any pesky, Democratic-voting students that live off-campus in Bloomington – right in Peggy Mayfield’s own district!)

But as the Brennan Center pointed out in a 2006 issue brief,

Such presumptions against student voting generally have been invalidated by courts under the equal protection clause. For example, in Williams v. Salerno, the Second Circuit held that a letter sent by the Westchester County Board of Elections to student applicants, which stated that “[a] college dorm cannot be considered a fixed, permanent or principal home,” created an unconstitutional rule or presumption against student residency.

Since courts have ruled that the 14th Amendment does apply to to the states in this instance, the state cannot hold students to a different standard than other voters seeking to register.

Under current Indiana law, it is illegal to challenge a voter on the basis of (1) enrollment in an “educational institution”, or (2) being registered at a dorm or other student housing. (IC 3-5-4.5-2)

And when you look at the Indiana Constitution, Article 2, Section 14, subsection c clearly says:

The General Assembly shall provide for the registration of all persons entitled to vote.

It seems clear that these 2 members of the General Assembly are clearly shirking the spirit

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, if not the letter, of the law.