Voter Intimidation Against BYU-Idaho Students


The above sign is prominently posted at the front desk of the Madison County Elections office in Rexburg, Idaho. Rexburg is home of Brigham Young University-Idaho.

In Idaho, you can register to vote at the polls as long as you can show that you have resided in Idaho for the 30 previous days. This far into Fall semester, that would cover most Brigham Young University-Idaho students who are American citizens. 

However, according to the above sign in the Madison County Elections office, students are not welcome.

Now, for many students, it does make sense for them to vote in their home states. Especially if they live in a swing state.

However, many students are getting excited about the election now (partially because of the stellar teaching taking place at BYU-Idaho). Voting absentee is too late at this point. These are mostly first-time voters. They are also mostly Republican voters. The results in Madison County are not likely to be any different if a small fraction of the university students vote locally. Heck, most of the local state legislative races are unopposed (when I was the advisor to the College Democrats at BYU-Idaho a decade ago, there wasn’t even a county Democratic committee).

I don’t think there should be a push to register BYU-Idaho students as Idaho voters. However, students who encounter this sign will be among the few who make the concerted effort to walk into the county building on Main Street. 

BYU-Idaho students, like most university and college students living away from home, do not typically feel inclined to vote in their college community. Yet, BYU-Idaho students live in Rexburg year round as they push to finish their degrees after service 18 to 24 months as LDS missionaries. They no longer have the same connection with the home state of their youth that typical undergraduates might have. So for many BYU-Idaho students Madison County is really the closest thing they have to an actual legal domicile.

A few points about the content of the sign, which appears to come straight from the State of Idaho:

Registering to vote is a serious matter which should only be done after proper reflection.

I agree! From my three years as a political science instructor at BYU-Idaho, I can confirm that many BYU-Idaho students take elections very seriously. In general, they likely reflect on politics as much, if not more, than the average Idahoan.

It should be noted that there is no federal right to vote anywhere in the United States for the office of President. State laws control registration and voting and State residency requirements must be met.

State law does set most voting residency requirements. However, the 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution give Congress the power and responsibility to ensure the voting rights are upheld. This statement from Idaho clearly goes contrary to the spirit of these amendments, especially the 26th. It is also misleading about the Constitution.

Having this ridiculous statement on a state website is one thing. But posting it on the front desk of the county elections office is clearly voter intimidation and voter suppression.

Getting young voters to vote is an important goal. By discouraging college students from voting, Madison County may be causing harm as a young person’s first attempt to vote becomes an experience of frustration.

Instead of worrying about arbitrary issues such as “legal domicile,” let us welcome young voters to the polls with open arms.

Categories: Chris, Feature, Politics

9 replies »

  1. That sounds like a plea to not swamp the local city/county office with new voter registrations. Freshmen who are 3 months away from their long-time home would probably be more knowledgeable and better voters in their home town. A 2-4 year resident of Iceburg should probably just register there.
    If this is the big example of voter intimidation, suppression or illegalities, we are doing well as a society. As a former voter in the state of Illinois (the home state of Obama and Clinton) I can assure you that much worse goes on.

  2. This is an attempt of voter suppression. Student you CANNOT legally be denied your right to vote. Go vote. You don’t have to answer any questions about whether or not you are a student.

  3. Thank you for this. This is reprehensible. Idaho Democratic Party is moving forward to stop this in the future … so far the Sec State Office thinks this kind of suppression is “probably a good idea.” Amazing.

  4. I graduated from this school many years ago when it was still a college. I can tell you that the school is fine, but the outside community is actually kinda weird, closed off, and somewhat hostile. People need to realize that there are many, many students there who are married and have no other true residence. I suspect that the community knows full well, as does the Mormon Church, that things are changing, particularly as it applies to the younger generation. No longer do all young people just fall in line with the GOP dogma. Our church teaches not to question authority, but I am not so sure that us serving us well at this time, in this country. This is clearly voter intimidation. Too bad if Madison County doesn’t want to process the votes. They do not get to pick and choose who they allow to vote. I am shocked by this tactic, but not necessarily surprised. ACLU, thank you for what you are doing to safeguard voting rights.

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