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Michigan's Machiavelli: How Congressman Rogers Stole Students' Votes

by: Philip.R.Moon

Tue Aug 19, 2008 at 10:54:06 AM EDT

(The Rogers Law needs to go, and here's why. - promoted by rich)

X-posted at Dailykos, please reccommend. 

In 2000 political attention turned to Florida as the decision for president remained to be resolved. In a state run by Bush family members and loyalists, tales of voter purging and other underhanded tactics revealed the willingness of Republicans to act clandestinely to ensure their victory by denying the vote to Democratic leaning groups.

But one year before in the state of Michigan one legislator introduced and passed a new law guaranteed to disenfranchise and dissuade a group of heavy Democratic voters from democracy. His work in disenfranchising voters would lead to his winning a seat in Congress.

That legislator was State Senator, now Congressmen, Mike Rogers of Michigan's 8th district. And the group he successfully disenfranchised was the young voters at Michigan State University, which is located in his district, and every other residential college and university in Michigan.


Philip.R.Moon :: Michigan's Machiavelli: How Congressman Rogers Stole Students' Votes
In 1999 Mike Rogers introduced Senate Bill 0306, aka "Rogers Law", which eventually became Public Act 118. The law stated that in order to vote a person's voting address had to match the address on their driver's license or state ID.

At first it might sound innocuous. Supporters argued that it made it easier for the Secretary of State and clerks to administer elections. But when full implications are examined, it is easy to see how a Republican seeking to run in a close race would benefit from its passage.

In Michigan voters cannot vote absentee in their first election. That means a majority of Michigan State University students would have to show up to the polls to vote. That would add a burden, given that a Tuesday vote meant missing classes and driving hundreds of miles if they lived in the Upper Peninsula.

Registering in East Lansing meant that they would have to change their permanent address on their driver's license, a hurdle of time and confusion that would help disenfranchise some.

But having to visit the Secretary of State's office wasn't the only burden, or the most significant, that drove many students from registering to vote in East Lansing. What kept more students away from the polls in East Lansing, and what benefited Rogers the most, were the rumors that spread that by registering in East Lansing instead of at home, students risked being kicked off their parent's health insurance plans and having their credit rating adversely effected.

Dissent rose in several editorial and letters to the editor in college newspapers. The law was denounced in the State News, Michigan State's student newspaper.

State News

At the same time, many MSU students claim they were denied the opportunity to vote. Their votes could have affected close Michigan races. State Sen. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, defeated state Sen. Dianne Byrum, D-Onondaga, by 153 votes in the 8th Congressional District race.

Rogers sponsored a bill - which later became law - that discouraged some students from casting their vote on Election Day. The law, which requires voters to change their voter registration address to that on their driver’s license, was created to help prevent voter fraud and help officials keep easier track of where people are voting.

But while the stated purpose of the law was not to discourage students from voting, it has unfortunately had that effect. Since most students frequently change their address and consider their campus city to be their second address, most have their permanent home address on their driver’s license.

MSU students voiced opposition to the hurdles of having to reregister.

But Ben Deneweth, a computer science junior, is now pretty sure who he’ll support when he visits the polls.

“I was kind of undecided of who to vote for,” Deneweth said. “When I went to the secretary of state to register to vote, though, I made my mind up. It took me an hour and 15 minutes to get my address changed.

“Mike Rogers passed the bill and it’s keeping students from voting.”

The law was opposed by other university newspapers in the state, including Michigan Daily  (University of Michigan), and the Grand Valley State Lanthorn.

The passage of the law led to a lawsuit from the ACLU, which represented the student governments of six state universities. The ACLU argued that the law would overburden students, and questioned the claim that it would prevent voter fraud.

Abe Raffi, Chair of the ACLU student chapter at the University of Michigan said: "Students already have a deplorably low rate of voter turnout and this law attempts to silently drag students out of the democratic process. In order to vote, I'd have to drive an hour and half each way."

If this law takes effect, it will require college students to pay a significant price for the privilege of exercising their fundamental right to vote. There has been no evidence of voter fraud and state election procedures already in place are more than sufficient to prevent such a problem from arising.

The lawsuit was unsuccessful in overturing the law.

Right after the election Roger's law bore the fruit he wanted. Several students reported they had been blocked from voting at the polls.
Many students who say they registered to vote - and showed up to exercise their right - did not get to cast their ballots Tuesday.

And several were enraged.

“Two years ago when I first came to State, I registered to vote using my address at Wonders Hall,” said Josh Sommers, a business junior. “This year before the election I was contacted and asked if I want to change my registered address and I said, ‘Sure.’

“I went to city council  I found out I couldn’t vote, because the address you registered with had to be the same as the one on your license.”

What happened to Sommers was not uncommon Tuesday. Many students were unaware of recently passed Senate Bill 306, which requires voters to change their registration address to match the address that appears on their driver’s license.

The success of Rogers' law can be seen in how close the election win was for him. The final recount found Rogers won by 111 votes. That represented 1.6% of the 6,873 freshman that enrolled in Michigan State University that year. That doesn't even count sophomores, juniors, and seniors who's East Lansing registration was invalidated by the law.

But the full impact of Rogers' Law wouldn't be felt until the next election. On October 5, 2002, the Detroit Free Press reported major drops voter registrations in the cities with the largest college populations. Ann Arbor saw the biggest drop, with the total city registration dropping 13.6%. East Lansing, within Rogers' district, saw a drop of 11% in voter registrations.

What Can Be Done To Reverse Rogers' Law

Nine years after Rogers' Law passed, one State Representative is using the Democrats regained majority in the Michigan House to push for the repeal of Rogers Law. Representative Rebekah Warren has introduced legislation to repeal Roger's law.

Contact Representative Warren and tell her you support her legislation to give students back their vote.

If any readers are from Michigan find your state Representative and Senator and tell them to support House Bills 4447 and 4448

Another way is to help remove Mike Rogers from office. As I earlier wrote The 8th district is on the verge of turning blue.

Visit Democratic Candidate Bob Alexander's campaign website and his ActBlue page to help Alexander remove Michigan's anti-democracy Republican congressman.
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360 Student Voters
Don't forget that the student governments across the state also fought SB 306 - ASMSU was one of the original leaders in that fight.  The whole QVF argument put forward by Candy Miller and Mike Rogers was laughable on its face, this was clearly an end around the MSU/EL vote in the 8th district.  

On election day 2000 we had estimates of around 360 student voters being turned away in EL because they were not in the QVF.  When you consider that Rogers won by 111 votes this legislative end around work out pretty well for him.

I will gladly join the effort to get this stupid law off the books - but let's not stop there, let's work the right way to get same day registration, open abstenee voting and removal of id laws done in Michigan.

I have no problem with this law. A little effort and planning prevents self-inflicted mistakes.
I was at my first stint at MSU when this law passed. I was aware of it, and even emailed the always helpful Judie Scranton, my then state rep, about this because I did not know that then state rep Laura Baird was termed out. I then learned that I needed to stay registered in Livingston County. Knowing this, I voted my normal way, absentee. Because I make the effort to show up in all elections, I never had this problem. Prior planning prevents piss poor performance.

It's common knowledge that Michigan voters can not vote absentee in their first election. That can be corrected by doing what few do and vote in a May school or state primary or general election previously. A little effort prevents that roadblock.

Many students were unaware of recently passed Senate Bill 306, which requires voters to change their registration address to match the address that appears on their driver's license.

I knew about it. That was the lead stories for months in the Snooze and the LSJ. It wasn't not a secret. If you were uninformed, that's your fault.

This is a good law that reduces the chance for vote fraud. All it takes to be able to vote is to show up at the polls once at your own registered precinct to be able to get an absentee vote. If I can do it, others can as well.  

"He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security" - Benjamin Franklin

Opinions are my own and not that of LCRP

Disenfranchisement via Health bBnefits
Put aside the fact that there has been no real proof of voter fraud, this law succeeds in helping Republicans running in areas where many college and universities reside.

The biggest deterrent to student voting is the fear of being kicked of their parent's health benefits. Full time students do not have the time to work a job that can provide those benefits, nor afford the cost of their own health care. Poll any set of college parents and rest assured you'll find that the vast majority would want to keep their kids on their health plan while away at college.

The other issue is the message this law has sent to college students. Student apathy is driven by the fact that students do not feel their vote counts or that politicians care. This law confirms that in their minds.

Rogers' Law should be repealed, and laws should be put in place to protect student's ability to register in their college town without the risk of being removed from their parents' health plan. Students should only have to show that they are registered at a college, taking a minimum course load (half-time perhaps) and that they can be claimed as dependents on their parents income taxes.

[ Parent ]
We've looked into the tie to insurance.
...and we've never heard a single reliable report of a problem.  Not one.  It's a persistent myth,

[ Parent ]
The situation is actually more complex.
Philip captures the broad picture pretty well, and he's certainly right about Rogers' intentions and the effect of the law.  But the legal situation, and what can be done about it, need additional discussion.

First - and this sounds like splitting hairs - there's no requirement that "the address you registered with had to be the same as the one on your license."  You can register wherever you currently live, but the Secretary of State has the legal authority to change your drivers license address to match your new voter address.  And if you register to vote at a Secretary of State branch office, if you have a drivers license (or state ID) you will be required to change BOTH or NEITHER.  

But if you register through a voter drive, you can list any legal address - PERIOD.  The Secretary of State rarely manages to connect the new voter registration with the drivers license, unless you provide your drivers license number when registering - which you are not required to do.

In practice, even when students find the Secretary of State has changed their drivers license address, the only effect is to mail a sticker with the new address, which you are expected to apply to your license, and which most people simply ignore.  Again, there's no legal compulsion.

The practical result of this legal tangle has been very.  First, at campuses other than MSU, it has basically frozen students out of local politics, because everyone believes local registration has been blocked.  

Here at MSU, East Lansing Progressives has simply continued our regular voter drives, and we've encountered almost no problems at all.  In both 2006 and 2007, our group turned in 3000+ registrations, which comprised 75% of all registrations taken between Labor Day and the end of voter registration for the fall election, by all organizations including the City Clerk and the Secretary of State.  It seems we're the only people who don't believe Rogers' bill is a real barrier.

Rumors still around
I've work with the MSU Democrats on voter registration, and the rumors of losing health benefits are still around. Most health insurance companies likely won't kick out students, especially union health benefits, but the rumors require more effort when registering voters.

We should also remember that most of these students are first time voters, and, like most of the population, don't have as deep a grounding in the operations and legal minutia of elections and elections law.  

[ Parent ]
Absolutely right - we need to simplify and clarify the law.
The problem Rogers created are psychological, rather than concrete legal barriers.

[ Parent ]
Still pissed
Boy does this story remind me of how angry I was on election night in 2000.  Mike Rogers and his stupid FBI haircut STOLE that election from Dianne Byrum by making it more difficult for college students at MSU to vote.

I lived in the 8th then and I still remember how Byrum was told she won the election at first then later informed she lost by a tiny margin.  She was a good legislator and I'm glad her daughter holds a seat now.  

When I went to college I changed my registration to vote in East Lansing, and had no problem with my insurance coverage.  I hope people can clear up this misconception this fall, because we need as many young people to vote as possible.  

State identification is registration
While I support Warren's bills, they don't go far enough.  Any state issued should automatically be registered to vote (for citizens).  Why have a separate process, especially now that the photo is required to vote?

I agree that folks should be able to move their registration, but have a more permanent address for their SoS mailings.

Every qualified citizen should be in the Qualified Voter File!

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