Lawsuit Argues That Michigan Is Disenfranchising Student Voters

September 19, 2008

A national student group has sued top state officials in Michigan over programs to purge voter rolls that critics say will disenfranchise students and other voters, in a presidential-election year in which Michigan is a battleground state.

The student group, the United States Student Association, joined the American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project, a racial-justice group, in filing the complaint on Wednesday in federal court. They argue that two existing programs in Michigan — one that cancels the registrations of voters who obtain driver’s licenses in other states and one that removes new voters whose identification cards are returned by the postal service as undeliverable — have the potential to purge from the rolls hundreds of thousands of legitimate voters.

“It’s just not fair to deny someone the right to vote just because they are an out-of-state student or they don’t get a piece of mail,” Jonathan Doster, an organizer for the student association, said in a written statement. The groups that sued said Michigan’s voter-removal programs also disproportionately affected low-income residents.

Kelly Chesney, a spokeswoman for Michigan’s secretary of state, defended the programs. “These groups are challenging laws that have been on the books since 1975,” she told the Detroit Free Press.

The lawsuit seeks suspension of the voter-removal programs and restoration to the rolls of all voters it says have been illegally purged since 2006. —Sara Lipka