ARIZONA — Rep. Bob Thorpe’s once again trying to make sure college students in Flagstaff can’t vote in local elections — including the battle for the legislative seats representing Rim Country and the White Mountains.
House Bill 2461 would bar anyone from voting in a district where they don’t plan to live all year long. It’s aimed at the roughly 20,000 Northern Arizona University College students in his legislative district — which stretches from Flagstaff to Snowflake.
However, some critics have suggested it could also cause problems for second-home owners, who spend time split between two houses.
Rep. Thorpe has been termed-out of his State House District 6 seat. He had planned to run for the District 6 Senate seat, but backed out after incumbent Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) changed her mind and decided to run for re-election.
Rep. Thorpe is now running for a seat on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors. Interestingly, county supervisor Art Babbott is running as an Independent for the House seat Thorpe is vacating. Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans is running as the sole Democrat. On the Republican side, Rep. Walt Blackman is running for re-election and former Rep. Brenda Barton is seeking to regain the seat she once held.
HB 2461 would also prevent NAU students not living in town year-round from voting in the board of supervisor’s election.
One national study found that voting turnout among college students rose from 45 percent in 2012 to 48 percent in 2016, both presidential years. Turnout in the 2018 midterm elections doubled, from 20 percent to 40 percent.
So while voting by college students has grown, they still vote at far lower rates than older voters.
Generally, about 70 percent of people over 60 vote regularly, compared to about 30 percent of voters ages 18-29. Voting participation in generally increases steadily with age. Generally, younger voters in the past two election cycles have voted for Democrats — by a 59 to 32 percent margin, according to a national survey by the PEW Foundation.
Critics maintain that making it harder for college students to vote will further reduce the youth vote, a potential boon to Republicans. District 6 is considered one of the most competitive districts in the state, with Republicans holding a diminishing edge in voter registration and with Independents making up nearly a third of the population.
The bill would essentially require students to get mail-in ballots from their parent’s home address, an extra step likely to reduce turnout.
Rep. Thorpe beat Democrat Felicia French by just 577 votes in 2018. This year, French is running for the Senate seat. In 2018, Sen. Allen won just 51 percent of the vote in her re-election bid.
Rep. Thorpe previously sponsored a similar bill, which died in committee.
Thorpe has said the bill will prevent students from cancelling out the votes of local residents and business owners, who live in the community year round.
The bill has not yet passed the full House and would have to go to the Senate if it does, then get Gov. Doug Ducey’s signature.
The legislature has lagged behind its ambitious 100-day schedule and not yet adopted a budget. The prospect of a recession caused by the economic slowdown forced by the novel coronavirus is further complicating those budget deliberations. As a result, many bills like HB 2461 could die before they make it through the process.