Back in 1999, then-Brighton state Sen. Mike Rogers pushed a measure dubbed “Rogers’ Law,” which required voters to vote based on their driver’s license address.
At the time, the Livingston County Republican was eyeing the 8th congressional seat, home of Michigan State University. The swing seat was being vacated by Democrat Debbie Stabenow to run for the Senate, and the Republican-controlled Legislature thought Rogers could win it, as Dick Chrysler did a few years earlier.
Likely looking for any edge possible, Rogers used his position as Senate majority floor leader to push through P.A. 118, which had the practical impact of forcing hundreds of college students to vote at their parents’ address unless they went to the Secretary of State’s Office to change their driver’s license address.
Since most MSU students weren’t going to go through the hassle of putting “Wells Hall,” or wherever they were staying for a year, on their license, an estimated hundreds if not thousands of likely liberal-leaning college students didn’t cast a ballot in East Lansing, if they did at all.
Rogers beat Democrat Dianne Byrum by 123 votes in 2000. If Rogers’ law had not passed, it’s widely presumed Byrum would have been the Lansing region’s member of Congress.
Fast forward to 2018. A group of Democratic students at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University filed suit late last week alleging that this law discriminates against younger voters. They’re asking a federal judge to declare it unconstitutional.
“Young voters in Michigan have historically and to this day, been the target and victims of voting rules and requirements that are both intended to and have had the effect of making it substantially, and unjustifiably, more difficult for them to understand and navigate the process,” the lawsuit reads.
The whole matter has taken the Secretary of State’s Office “by surprise.” Spokesman Fred Woodhams said the office successfully litigated this issue 20 years ago.
Besides that, they feel students can easily change their address on their driver’s licenses and register to vote at their college campuses by visiting a branch office. For MSU students, that means trekking down Michigan Avenue to the SuperCenter! in Frandor and getting that done.
While MSU and UofM students are listed on the suit, the attorney of record is Washington, D.C.’s, Marc Elias, who is also working behind the scenes with the national progressive Priorities USA Foundation.
This is the outfit that’s asking for 5 million voted ballots and 1.2 million absentee ballot envelopes from the 2016 to see look for any “undervoting” in communities of color.
Elias’ latest attempt with Rogers’ Law isn’t starting off well for him. Federal Judge Robert Cleland, of Port Huron, a George H.W. Bush appointee and Federalist Society member known for once comparing illegal immigrants to insects and Japanese Beetles, was assigned the case.
This certainly isn’t like getting a more progressive judge, such as federal Judge Victoria Roberts, of Detroit, who last week who ruled the state’s 30,000-signature requirement for independent statewide office-seekers unconstitutionally burdensome. Or federal Judge Gershwin Drain, who blocked the 2015-’16 law banning the “straight ticket” voting option from taking effect.
Those pushing this latest lawsuit, including 2014 Democratic attorney general candidate Mark Totten, are seeking quick action so possibly a more sympathetic appeals court can look at this by Oct. 9, the last day voters can register before the November general election.
All the while, the $30 million being spent by NextGen America, fueled by billionaire activist Tom Steyer, to register young voters across the country is continuing in competitive states like Michigan. But for now, college students will need to register where their parents live ... unless they change their driver’s license.
Tebay, Scott Calling Out DeVos
In other news, Democratic MSU board nominees Kelly Tebay and Brianna Scott are calling on Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to publicly oppose the new proposals from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that they fear will reduce liability for universities and colleges.
According to The New York Times, the proposal narrows the definition of sexual harassment, hold schools accountable only for formal complaints filed through proper authorities and for conduct said to have occurred on their campuses.
Apparently, the higher education administrators felt the rules the Obama administration laid down were overly burdensome and had little to do with assault with harassment.
“As Michigan’s top law enforcement official, it’s absolutely vital that Bill Schuette speaks out against these dangerous new proposals and pledges to make sure they never get enacted in our state,” Tebay said.
(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol newsletter MIRS is at firstname.lastname@example.org.)