Legislation under consideration in the Indiana House would keep some college students from voting, and it’s so flawed it’s hard to know where to begin.
House Bill 1311, filed by Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, says students who are paying “out of state” tuition would not be allowed to vote in Indiana. She says she’s trying to resolve an issue “about who is an Indiana resident. We’re having people who are not necessarily residents voting in our elections.”
The first problem with the measure is that it’s just a little bit unconstitutional. Indiana’s constitution provides that a person who is at least 18 and has been a resident of a precinct for the 30 days preceding an election may vote. It takes a minimum of a year to get a university to consider changing a student’s “out of state” status, so the law would clearly be judging students by different standards from those applied to other voters.
Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled such legislation impermissible. In 1977’s Symm v. United States, the court held that it is unconstitutional to hold students to different standards.
A further problem is that the legislation would not even treat all college students the same. Unlike public universities, private schools do not charge different fees for “in state” and “out of state” students. All private college students pay the same fee, so none of them would be affected by the legislation.
Some critics of this proposal allege that it is another dastardly Republican trick to suppress the Democratic vote, since college students tend to support that party’s candidates. This is just like that other evil Republican plot, the requirement that voters show a photo ID at the polls. Without being able to read Peggy Mayfield’s mind, all we can say is that this may or may not be so.
And it doesn’t really matter, because that possibility is irrelevant to consideration of the worth of the legislation. The photo-ID law is a sensible requirement to prevent fraud that applies to all voters. The out-of-state-fee restriction applies only to a selected class of voters.
Any proposal that doesn’t meet the equality-under-the-law standard is immediately suspect, and further consideration of this one doesn’t make it look any better.