PHOENIX — An Arizona Republican lawmaker wants to prohibit college students from voting where they attend school, claiming they “dilute the votes” of year-round residents.
State Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, is chairman of the Arizona House Government and Higher Education Committee.
He said in a statement:
“These students do not influence the elections within their home communities, where their families and neighbors live, but instead they dilute the votes of the local full-time residents within the college communities.”
Thorpe said he has not yet written the legislation but will develop it with “stakeholders.”
Thorpe, a self-identified Tea Party member, calls “unethical voter recruitment efforts” a “serious problem” in Arizona.
He wants the secretary of state to mail early ballots to students at their permanent address. Only those living in full-time, off-campus housing could vote in the elections where they attend college, if they show proper identification to prove it.
Thorpe’s proposal has drawn criticism from his constituents in Flagstaff.
“Excluding college students from participating in the election process at their place of residence is not only undemocratic but also unconstitutional,” Flagstaff City Councilwoman Eva Putzova said in a statement.
“This is another example of a voter suppression tactic designed to benefit the narrow economic and political interests represented by Rep. Thorpe.”
Thorpe’s district includes Northern Arizona University, whose Flagstaff campus has recorded record-breaking enrollment in recent years, with 22,000 students enrolled last fall.
“NAU students are part of the fabric of this community and have every right to participate in its elections,” Putzova said.
Angela Romero Ramirez, a sophomore and member of Associated Students for Women’s Issues (ASWI), called Thorpe’s proposal an affront.
“It’s not surprising that they’re trying to muffle the voices of NAU students,” Ramirez said in an interview. “Especially because we have these really powerful groups on campus, like the Black Student Union, the Gold ‘n’ Brown Jacks or ASWI.”
Ramirez said groups educate students on how to register locally and where to vote on Election Day.
“When you look at these groups individually, they have a lot of power on campus, because they’re able to mobilize a lot of students,” Ramirez said. She said college students should have the right to vote where they live and work, because “a lot of propositions affect students.”
In 2016, for example, Flagstaff voters approved Proposition 414, which will eventually raise the citywide minimum wage to $15. Thorpe opposed the measure.
The proposition passed by a wide margin in precincts including and immediately around the university, outweighing “residential” areas where it failed.
Ramirez said it was “interesting” that Thorpe was not targeting other part-time residents for disenfranchisement, such as “snowbirds” who live in second homes in Flagstaff.
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