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Idaho students face voting obstacles

Idaho ranks as one of the most restrictive states in the nation for college students looking to register and vote at their college addresses, according to a national study. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School surveyed all states’ election laws and rules for student voters and found that only Idaho and Tennessee require students to have plans to stay in the state permanently, aside from school. “Frankly, I question the constitutionality of this rule,” said Wendy Weiser, director of voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center. “Many students are in a situation where they don’t know where they’re going after school – for all intents and purposes, this is their only residence.” She added, “To say that you actually have to have a definite plan to remain in Idaho means that all the people who haven’t determined what their future plans are … are for all intents and purposes disenfranchised.”

The practice is different in Washington. “Basically, the attorney general’s office has told us that students have the ability to either register at their home address and get an absentee ballot, or they can register on their campus by using their campus address if that’s where their residence is,” said Lindsay Pryor, voter outreach coordinator for the Elections Division of the Washington secretary of state’s office. That’s how it works across the country, according to the Brennan Center, and a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the 1970s upheld the rights of college students to be treated no differently from any other voters.

In one key case from 1979, a mostly white Texas county required students at a mostly black state college to fill out special questionnaires in order to register, querying them about their plans after graduation, their home address listed with the college, and more; the court put a stop to that. “Idaho does not do that,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “The Idaho law on residency is neutral – it’s anybody, a student, a non-student.” But, he said, “Residency is unfortunately not necessarily black and white. There are limits, and we stand by what we have put out in writing on how you define residency.” You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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