In the Daily Caller today, Executive Director Michael Thielen discussed the complicated issues around registering out-of-state college students to vote in battleground states. The article highlight how this issue raises gray legal and ethical issues, which are often disregarded in favor of political advantages.
[W]hy aren’t we upset when students do the same thing? Would we really accept the fact that adult commuters who work in New York and Boston and leave for their true homes on the weekends can vote in the city if it is in the strategic interest of a political party? Would we accept adults who are periodically working in a state or city voting there even when they have no real intent to live there? The answer is a resounding no. Worse, why aren’t we troubled that a political party uses students as political pawns on a regular basis?
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Legal definitions about eligibility to vote in a state vary from state to state, but state residence, domicile, inhabitance, or similar requirements usually contain the intent to live there for the foreseeable, or undetermined, future. A person who enters a state with no intent to remain usually does not meet this standard, and many college students have no intention to remain in the place they go to college. But some students do meet the legal standard, and this is why student voting location is so tricky. There is no set rule or answer for students, but the needs of a political party is not an ethical or acceptable way for a student to figure out where he or she should vote.
Americans would not be pleased if a multimillionaire politician, who owns several homes opted to register to vote in one property which happens to be in a battleground state, over his actual residence in another non-battleground state--solely based on a political factor. However, this is exactly what has happened in the past with students (and we blogged about this in 2014):
In 2008, then-Senator Obama’s campaign started a program nicknamed “float the vote”. This program involved telling students to vote where it was most politically advantageous for the Obama campaign and not where the student felt they “resided” or where they met the legal definition of residency or domicile for purposes of voter registration. This program unfortunately encouraged white lies for short-term political gain by encouraging students to state under oath that their college town was their permanent home and they intended to stay and vote. The program also undermined federal law that authorized and encouraged students who were away to vote by absentee ballot in their hometown.
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Float the vote demeaned voting from a patriotic right and duty to something strategic that included a bit of lying about where students really lived. There used to be safeguards in some states, such as Virginia, whereby students would be asked a series of simple questions when registering to see if they really resided in Virginia. This matters, in part, because there many more elections than just the Presidential election. However, Democratic Virginia Governors Tim Kaine and Terry McAuliffe appointed Democrats to the Virginia Board of Elections that eliminated these questions. McAuliffe also attempted to effectively eliminate voter registration questions on citizenship and felonies by saying those who did not answer would be automatically registered. The reason why they did so was quite simply the perception, backed up by polls, that felons, non-citizens, and students overwhelmingly vote Democrat.
To be clear, liberals’ rhetoric about student voting has nothing to do with defending “poor students” or whether students have a right to vote and everything to do with obtaining more votes in close races. . . The Democratic Party encourages this tactic because polls show students tend to vote Democrat. It should not be contentious or controversial to say that students should have the same right to vote as everyone else, nothing more and nothing less.
Work needs to be done to reign in this behavior. It is unethical to target these students--from non-battleground states attending college in battleground states--just because their vote would have a greater impact while away at school and irrespective of where they intend to be after college. This should be a undebatable, nonpartisan issue, but sadly is not.