Out-of-state Iowa college student voters

In today’s Des Moines Register, there was a piece by David Yepsen entitled: Parties, candidates must make sure caucuses are clean. The piece basically condemns Ron Paul and Barack Obama’s campaigns for encouraging out-of-state voters to participate in the Iowa caucuses.

The focus of the piece, is not, however, on any allegations of the encouragement of voter fraud, mainly because there is no evidence to suggest that this is the case, but on Obama’s emphasis on turning out the vote among college students in the state. And for this reason, I think that this piece is disgusting.

I am Grinnell College student who was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and raised in Neenah, WI. Because I spend most of the year living in Iowa, I am indeed legally entitled to vote in Iowa. And why not? I work here, I pay taxes here, and I shop here. I am an Iowa resident, and thus there is nothing “tainted” about my vote.

And yet there has suddenly been an outcry against the fact that college students, including Yepsen. Here are some excerpts from his article:

Obama’s campaign is telling Iowa college students they can caucus for him even if they aren’t from Iowa. His campaign offers that advice in a brochure being distributed on college campuses in the state. A spokesman said 50,000 of the fliers are being distributed. It says: “If you are not from Iowa, you can come back for the Iowa caucus and caucus in your college neighborhood.”

Oh the humanity! The Obama campaign is letting those who are legally entitled to vote in Iowa that they can. What a terrible thing for the campaign to do.

Given that many students in Iowa’s colleges and universities are from Obama’s neighboring home state of Illinois, the effort could net him lots of additional votes on caucus night. It’s all quite legal, and other campaigns are signing up nonresident Iowa college students, too. But Obama’s effort is unprecedented. No presidential campaign in memory has ever made such a large, open attempt to encourage students from another state to participate in Iowa’s caucuses.

Oh, now I get it. Since it’s unprecedented, it’s wrong. Seriously, there are two main reasons why the Obama campaign is doing this “unprecedented” get out the vote measure among college students. The first is simply because Obama has strong appeals to college students. His message resonates with college students, and he has put more effort into talking to them than any other candidate. So encouraging them, a significant demographic that mostly supports him, to vote is simply sound campaign practice.

However, perhaps more importantly, and the reason that this is unprecedented is that the Iowa caucus, unlike past years, occurs during most school’s winter break, so unlike past years, students won’t be on campus to vote…they will be enjoying the holidays with their parents. Thus, more effort must be put in to get students to vote. Normally, all one would have to do would be to inform them of the caucus on the day, but now planning is required for these voters to vote.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Iowa caucus voting process, it is one dripping with voter disenfranchisement. The process is that on January 3, 2008 at 7pm, various precincts will hold meetings where voters stand in various parts of the room in preference groups (each representing a candidate or the undecided voting bloc). Preference groups must have enough people to be viable and viability is determined by the number of delegates to the county caucus in March that a precinct holds. Non-viable preference groups must dissolve with members joining other groups or leaving the caucus, or band together to become viable.

It’s a very public display of one’s political preferences and one that is not available to those who happen to be out of the state or working at the time. Usually 6-10% of voters show up. One cannot cast absentee ballots. That is why there is such an effort to get out-of-state college students, who as I said, are just as eligible to vote as any native Iowan, back to their college precincts to vote.

Now, I gave David Yepsen a hard time, as he rightly deserves, but he is not the only one who is in favor of disenfranchising college voters. As psericks from Daily Kos notes, Democratic campaigns have condemned us out-of-state college student voters. Here’s something from Richardson:

In addition, Reynolds said Richardson’s Iowa staff has not and will not encourage out-of-state students to return to Iowa early to caucus, saying the campaign is ‘going to abide to the letter and the spirit of the law. I think the spirit of the law is what’s most important,’ Reynolds said. [Des Moines Register, 12/1/07]

And from Biden:

Following reports that Gov. Richardson is “asking governmental appointees and other state employees to volunteer to help his campaign by traveling to Iowa before the Jan. 3 leadoff presidential contest,” and that Sen. Obama☼ is encouraging out of state college students to “come back and caucus,” the Biden for President campaign today called on Richardson and Obama to join the rest of the Democratic field in pledging to refrain from shipping in supporters to affect the outcome of the caucuses. [Associated Press, 12/6/07], [Associated Press, 12/5/07]

“Historically, the Iowa caucuses have been critical in leveling the playing field by producing viable candidates based on the strength of their ideas and character – because that’s precisely what’s needed to ensure a Democratic victory in the general election,” said Biden for President Communications Director Larry Rasky. “The absurd amount of money we’ve seen in this race already endangers this tradition and mocks our values as Democrats. Gov. Richardson and Sen. Obama have a responsibility to place the people of Iowa before their personal ambitions and pledge not to tamper with the caucuses that will largely determine who is best equipped to tackle both the Republican nominee as well as the challenges before our country.”

Well, despite Joe Biden being a second choice for me until now, I now resolve not to join a preference group for him should Obama not be viable. And given the Richardson’s campaign has used similar rhetoric, I guess he won’t be on my list either. And for those wondering, involvement of Iowa college students is encouraged, not prohibited by the spirit and letter of the law.

Biden and Richardson were not the only candidates to condemn college voters. It seems that Clinton and Dodd have said similar pieces themselves. Dodd himself said this:

Comparing out-of-state students to his staff members, who have lived in Iowa for more than a year, he said the caucuses should be reserved for Iowans, which doesn’t include students paying out-of-state tuition.

“If you’re from Hartford, Conn., and you’re going to school at the University of Iowa, and you’re paying out of state tuition, you’re [unfairly] casting yourself as an Iowan,” he said.

He apparently later encouraged students to participate at a student event, which speaks to his integrity more than anything. But the idea that students paying out-of-state tuition (which applies to state colleges, not Grinnell) shouldn’t participate is absurd. If they’re voting in two states, which is against the law, that’s another issue, but because their parents (not them) don’t live in Iowa and they pay more for college, they shouldn’t vote here? These candidates are rather disappointing.

Clinton has not been explicitly against it saying things like this:

“This is a process for Iowans. This needs to be all about Iowa, and people who live here, people who pay taxes here,” she told the Clear Lake crowd.

Followed with this “clarification”:

Senator Clinton… hopes that all Iowa students who have made Iowa their permanent home participate in the caucus.

Bill Clinton himself was in Grinnell yesterday (Monday), and when asked about this he said that we should search our conscience when thinking about whether we would be voting in Iowa and he spoke against voting in both Iowa and one’s home state, which Chase Martyn reported on here:

Last night on the campus of Grinnell College, I watched former President Bill Clinton stump for his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton. More than 80% of Grinnell’s student body comes from out of state. And yet, when he was asked at the end of his speech whether out of state students should vote here, he extemporaneously created an extralegal standard for enfranchisement above and beyond the 10-day residency threshold. It’s a “matter of conscience,” Clinton said, and students should only vote here if they consider themselves Iowans — if they feel more connected to politics here than they do to politics in their home state.

Personally, I think of the four candidates speaking against out-of-state Iowa college students, the Clinton campaign has probably been the most fair, though Martyn is right, Clinton is still pandering to the nativist crowd by advocating increased restrictions and while not directly condemning out-of-state college student voters, still using the rhetoric of those who do.

So, as a result of this but if buffoonery, I have decided that my second choice is now John Edwards, who I probably would have ranked behind Richardson and Biden before this issue. So congratulations to John Edwards for not joining in this parade of disenfranchisement. Though it is unlikely that Obama will be non-viable here in Grinnell 1st Ward (the most delegate rich in the state, with representing about 0.2%), Edwards will be my second choice.


About Meng Bomin

Real name Benjamin Main, I am a graduate of Grinnell College with a degree in Biological Chemistry.
This entry was posted in Current events, Local, Opinions, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Out-of-state Iowa college student voters

  1. ba says:

    Excellent commentary. Thank you!

    Yepsen says “But Obama’s effort is unprecedented. No presidential campaign in memory has ever made such a large, open attempt to encourage students from another state to participate in Iowa’s caucuses.”

    You know what? I’ll bet it’s not unprecedented at all. I’m sure this comes up every four years. Good for Obama and Ron Paul: Getting out the vote is a good thing.

    By the way, if the shoe was on the other foot (i.e., if Ron Paul was the one who polled lowest among students), you’d never see him condemning his competitors’ get-out-the-vote efforts. Instead, he’d be saying, “Students, go ahead and vote, and I hope you’ll vote for me.” 😉

  2. Onward socialist soldiers! Class warfare rhetoric and empty promises of peace and security from the Dems is laughable. I actually feel sorry for Barak, he has no idea what is in store for him. The Hillary PR war machine will chop him up into little Obama-bits.

  3. Ray J. says:

    This smacks of the Florida issue…where the snow-birds voted in Florida and then voted absentee in New York!!!

    You are telling me this is fair? Voting twice? You are truly an idiot…..

  4. Ben Main says:

    Ray J.:

    This smacks of the Florida issue…where the snow-birds voted in Florida and then voted absentee in New York!!!

    You are telling me this is fair? Voting twice? You are truly an idiot…..

    Comments like this aren’t helpful. I never suggested that voting twice was fair nor do I advocate it. I merely argued that the nativist rhetoric coming from several of the candidates as well as a few political reporters, including David Yepsen, was disgusting because Iowa students do have the right to vote in Iowa. If you want to hurl insults without actually reading the post, be my guest, but don’t expect anyone to take you seriously.

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