Student voting requirements cause concern

Locals take a hard look at the state law that turned many students away from the polls.

by Brian Kushida

For students, apartment managers and election officials, providing acceptable proof of residency for students living off-campus in future elections is raising concerns.

“Students are considered, in many cases, a transient population,” said The Melrose Executive Director Jennifer Dilley. “So it’s more difficult for a student to establish their permanent residence.”

Confusion ensued on Election Day after students living in off-campus apartments were initially unable to use copies of leases and billing invoices as proof of residency.

Minnesota election laws state utility bills students use must be “original,” but election officials didn’t accept bills from select apartment complexes.

For example, Xcel Energy can charge an entire apartment complex and the building’s management creates individual statements for each unit.

In turn, the bill residents receive is considered a third-party bill and not an original, said City of Minneapolis Director of Elections Cindy Reichert.

The ambiguity of what is considered an “original” utility bill will probably be handled for future elections, Reichert said.

“The law needs to be clarified, and that goes without saying,” she said.

First-year mechanical engineering student and Melrose resident Ben Shaffner successfully petitioned to get the original ruling overturned by the Hennepin County District Court, allowing residents living in Melrose to use their bills on Election Day.

Shaffner said he hopes election officials will make a change for the better.

“Even if a few kids were deterred from voting that day, it’s still terrible,” he said.

Although some apartment managers near campus assisted residents by providing additional paperwork their tenants typically don’t receive, some think the election laws need tweaking to steady the voting process.

University Commons Leasing Manager Katie Westerman said the process needs to be changed so a lease copy is an acceptable proof of residency.

“There is nothing else that I can give (election officials) that they’ll take,” said Westerman, adding that about 50 students had trouble providing proof of residency.

She said leases include the students’ names, addresses and amount of time they will be living in their apartments.

“A lease is a legally binding document,” she said. “I don’t see why that would not be able to be used.”

Keeler Apartments students were able to provide acceptable documents provided by management after being turned away, but Community Manager and Leasing Specialist Ted Williams said the apartment complex will prepare for the issue in future elections.

“I understand why there are such regulations,” Williams said. “You don’t want any voting frauds.”

Senior psychology major Nick DuRivage said he believes the bills the students initially provided are better proof of where they live.

“What’s more accurate, a bill from Xcel Energy, or a bill from your landlord?” DuRivage said.