The lawsuit, filed in federal court Thursday on behalf of Democrats at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, as well as the Michigan Federation of College Democrats, takes aim at a 1999 state law that requires a voter’s registration address to match the one on their driver’s license. It also challenges a Michigan statute requiring anyone who registers to vote by mail or through a third party to vote in person the first time they go to cast a ballot.
The lawsuit claims that the statutes violate the First Amendment and the 26th Amendment, which guarantees anyone 18 or older the right to vote.
The laws are more likely to affect young voters, the suit argues, because they are disproportionately more likely to move and keep two addresses: one at home and one at school. College students are also more likely to be first-time voters and take advantage of registering by mail or via a voter registration drive, but they often lack access to reliable transportation, the suit says.
“Young voters in Michigan have faced unequal and consequential barriers in registering to vote and voting for the first time, and they have even been denied the right to vote entirely for reasons that have nothing to do with their qualification or eligibility to participate in Michigan elections,” lawyers representing the group wrote. The suit also notes that state law allows people to register to vote wherever they regularly sleep, keep their personal belongings and have regular lodging.
Young voters in Michigan have faced unequal and consequential barriers in registering to vote and voting for the first time. Lawsuit on behalf of Democrats at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and the Michigan Federation of College Democrats
A spokesman for Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson (R), a named defendant in the suit, said the secretary’s office was “taken by surprise with what is seemingly an odd lawsuit.” He added it was easy for college students to update their addresses.
“For 20 years, residents have been able to conveniently update their address for both driver’s license and voting purposes,” Fred Woodhams, the spokesman, said in an email. “Michigan is by far the best state in the union in registering people to vote at our 131 Secretary of State (motor-vehicle) offices. Separating a person’s address for voting and licensing purposes would cause confusion and lead to different addresses for people who thought they had changed both.”
The Michigan students are being represented by a team of lawyers that includes Marc Elias, who served as general counsel to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. In July, Elias and his team represented a group of Florida college students who successfully sued the state to get rid of a blanket ban on early voting on college campuses. In that case, a federal judge said the state’s ban was intentional discrimination under the 26th Amendment.
No court had ever found a policy to be intentionally discriminatory under that amendment, leading some observers to speculate the amendment could be an emerging tool to fight voting restrictions.