Election law changes could ‘water down’ youth vote in college towns

A bill introduced Tuesday in the state Senate would affect young North Carolina voters attending universities outside their hometowns.

Senate Bill 667 requires children of voting age to be registered at the same address where their parents live if their parents claim those children as dependents. If the child is registered to vote at an address other than their parents', then the parents would not be permitted to claim the child as a dependent.

“We view this bill as a way of holding people responsible for their actions,” said Jay DeLancy, with the Voter Integrity Project. “If these young adults want to remain on their parents' taxes, then they would need to vote by absentee ballot from their home address.”

DeLancy added, “No class of citizens gets to vote from a temporary address that is not also their home of record, but the courts have quietly made an exception so students can do this even though the vast majority of them never stay in that college town after school.”

As written, the bill would require voters claimed by a parent or legal guardian as a dependent to vote at their parent's designated precinct or via an absentee ballot.

“[I]f the voter is a dependent of the voter's parent or legal guardian, is 18 years of age or older, and the voter has registered at an address other than that of the parent or legal guardian, the parent or legal guardian will not be allowed to claim the voter as a dependent for State income tax purposes,” the bill reads.

According to a report from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 18-29-year-old citizens make up approximately 21 percent of the current voting-eligible population. CIRCLE also reports that youth voters favored President Barack Obama by a 24-point margin over Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.

In November, Republican Christina Merrill filed an official protest with the Board of Elections after she lost her bid for Buncombe County commissioner in District 2. The Voter Integrity Project and Merrill say Warren Wilson College students swayed the election.

After redistricting, Warren Wilson's campus is now in two districts. According to the Warren Wilson College Echo, Merrill argued that students voted in the incorrect district, which affected the outcome of the election.

Filed Tuesday by Sen. Bill Cook (R-District 1), Sen. Norman Sanderson (R-District 2) and Sen. Ronald Rabin (R-District 12), S.B. 667 is a part of broader election law changes (S.B. 666) that would also repeal same-day voter registration, clarify the residential address that may be used for voting, limit early voting to 10 days and eliminate satellite early voting sites.

S.B. 666, if passed, would require eligible voters to register no later than 25 days before a primary or general election.

According to a study from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, “In 2008, on average, 59 percent of young Americans whose home state offered Election Day Registration voted; nine percentage points higher than those who did not live in EDR states.”

CIRCLE also reports that keeping polls open longer increases the youth vote.

“Keeping polls open longer is associated with higher voter turnout for young Americans who are not in school,” the study says. “Among 18- to 29-year-old citizens who are in the labor force, implementation of longer polling hours was associated with a seven percentage point increase in the voting rate for full-time (35 or more hours per week) workers and a five percentage point increase for part-time workers.”

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