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Editorial: Proof Of Residency Prevents Many Students From Voting

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It wasn't Ohio in 2004 and it definitely wasn't Florida in 2000, but the University of Illinoiscampus area saw its fair share of voting problems Tuesday.

Overall, reports indicate that polling places were largely able to handle the massive turnout, and in non-campus locations, the only inconvenience most people faced was a long line.

But at the Illini Union, the number of hoops students had to jump through rivaled the men's basketball team's Sunday showing. In order to cast a vote, you must show proof of residency. The brightly-titled Help America Vote Act of 2002 says that proof of residency can be satisfied by a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter.

The problem is that the law wasn't titled the "Help college students vote" act. While it's a good idea to ask voters for proof that they are who they say they are, the burden this puts on college students is frustratingly high.

Students are often long-term residents of Champaign County, but they are anything but permanent squatters. The vast majority of students don't stay in one place for a long enough duration to make it convenient to change our addresses on most documentation. Online banking, for example, has made it unnecessary and in some cases disadvantageous for students to take their business to local banks. This concept also applies to employed students that are paid via direct deposit and have no weekly stub to show election judges.

Utility bills also pose problems because usually, only a single copy is sent to each residence, and frequently with just one name. If you don't pay the bills in your apartment, you might not have one available to show. This is also a big problem for Greek houses and certified housing where students don't pay for utilities directly.

It's maddening that again, students faced confusion about whether their apartment lease -- a document that likely affects their life more than anything else -- proves their residency. Some students were allowed to vote using their leases and some were denied.

Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden told the News-Gazette that he's been lobbying the state board of elections to allow leases to be used to prove residency. But in the same breath, he said he's comfortable that the process follows the letter of the law and "meets the spirit of the Help America Vote Act."

Try telling that to the students who went to the pollsto exercise their freedoms, only to find more obstacles.

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