Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Voter Registration by Students Raises Cloud of Consequences

By TAMAR LEWIN

The widespread practice of students’ registering to vote at their college address has set off a fracas in Virginia, a battleground state in the presidential election.

Late last month, as a voter-registration drive by supporters of Senator Barack Obama was signing up thousands of students at Virginia Tech, the local registrar of elections issued two releases incorrectly suggesting a range of dire possibilities for students who registered to vote at their college.

The releases warned that such students could no longer be claimed as dependents on their parents’ tax returns, a statement the Internal Revenue Service says is incorrect, and could lose scholarships or coverage under their parents’ car and health insurance.

After some inquiries from students and parents, and more pointed questions from civil rights lawyers, the state board of elections said Friday that it was “modifying and clarifying” the state guidelines on which the county registrar had based his releases.

Student-registration controversies have been a recurring problem since 1971, when the 26st Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 from 21, and despite a 1979 ruling by the United States Supreme Court that students have the right to register at their college address.

Virginia is not the only state with murky guidelines. South Carolina’s voter-registration site, for example, says students who want to register to vote at their college address must demonstrate “a present intention to remain in the community.”

“There’s no issue for snowbirds who live in Iowa but fly to Florida for the winter,” said Sujatha Jahagirdar, program director of the Student Public Interest Research Group’s New Voters Project. “One demographic group, like students, shouldn’t have to overcome a special hurdle to vote. We impose all the responsibilities of citizenship on students, and we have to provide them with the privileges of citizenship, too.”

Ms. Jahagirdar said Virginia’s warnings were profoundly misleading. “We have been registering young voters for 25 years,” she said. “We registered 500,000 young voters in 2004, the majority on college campuses, and we’ve never heard of a single one who lost health insurance, scholarship or tax status because of where they registered to vote.”

In Virginia, the county registrar first issued an alarming release on Aug. 25, and two days later a slightly toned-down version using language taken directly from the state Board of Elections’ Web site.

That site says students can determine their legal residence, but advises them to consider certain questions. “Are you claimed as a dependent on your parents’ income tax return?” the site asks. “If you are, then their address is probably your legal residence.”

The site also tells students to check whether their coverage under their parents’ health or automobile insurance, or their scholarship, will be affected by changing their residence.
Civil rights lawyers say these guidelines are problematic and could infringe on students’ rights.
“What the state Board of Elections has on its Web site, to me, sounds like it is discouraging students from registering at their school address,” said Jon Greenbaum, director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Indeed, the Montgomery County registrar, E. Randall Wertz, said several students had canceled their local registration over their worry about the possible consequences. Mr. Wertz said he had issued the release to try to dispel confusion and explain what he believed to be the consequences of choosing a college address as a primary residence.

“My understanding of state law has been that by declaring you’re voting here, you’re saying this is your primary residence, your domicile, and that while you can have many abodes or residences, you can only have one domicile,” Mr. Wertz said. “And if this is your primary residence, you have to register your vehicle here, charge your driver’s license to here and so on. That’s been the interpretation at state training sessions.”

Kevin Griffis, the Obama campaign’s Virginia spokesman, said the release appeared to be a good-faith effort to convey state guidelines, not a politically motivated effort to stop voting by students.

Mr. Wertz said the initial release had been written by an intern whom he asked to summarize the guidelines. Although the second release used the state’s precise language, he said, it still left room for confusion. In other counties, registrars have refused to accept dormitory addresses as residences. But so far, the state has not set clear standards.

“Different registrars around the state interpret it differently,” he said. “We’ve asked for more guidance from the state legislature, but they haven’t wanted to deal with it.”

Mr. Greenbaum’s Voting Rights Project has been involved in other student-registration cases. Last fall, in Statesboro, Ga., in a hotly contested city council race, there were challenges to the registration of about 1,000 Georgia Southern University students who had used dormitory addresses. “We threatened suit, but the issue went away when they figured out that the challenges weren’t going to affect the results of the election,” Mr. Greenbaum said.

In 2003, in Waller County, Tex., the district attorney wrote a column in a local newspaper threatening to prosecute students at Prairie View A&M, a historically black university, for illegal voting. The project sued, and the district attorney backed down.

In the 1970s, that same county required Prairie View students who wanted to register to fill out a questionnaire asking, among other things, whether they owned property in the county, had an automobile registered there or belonged to any church, club or organization unrelated to the college. A challenge to that practice led the Supreme Court to uphold students’ rights to vote at their college address.

23 comments:

M. Barnett said...

I feel that if you go away to another state it's not fare that you have to change your address and, all your other information just to vote. Voting is a thing that should be a free thing for everyone, no restrictions. My point of view is that it isn't easy for people to spend their money just to fly back to their home state. They would be doing flying just to vote when they can register to vote and vote from their current location.Also to me what the people did to the students in virginia was very unfair. Eventhough its true they shouldn't have put it in such harsh and unmotovational words.

M. Frank said...

I do not think that college students should be allowed to vote in any kind of college town, unless they have and will continune to be permanent residents of that area. College students live a different life from the average citizen in a small town and are not directly effected by the town's laws and policies.
As we heard in class, when students vote in a small town, they can dangerously outnumber the population of the town, which effects the local elections and can alter results. Students should fill out absentee ballots for the districts in which they live and reside and where they pay insurance rates for and where their parents live.
I know if i lived in a small college town I would not want part time residents like college students voting in my district.

h. sugrim said...

I believe that college students should be able to vote but not at the community there at. Unless they live nearby its okay, but if they are hundreds of miles away from home, they shouldn't be able to vote for something that could change that community alone. But if its like voting for the president, then its okay. Those college students who are hundreds of miles away from home, will probably go back home or something so they shouldn't have the power to change that community. Those people who lived there for many years would probably be upset that college students who are only
there for 4 years could change their entire community upside down.

a. pervaiz said...

After listening to what everyone had said I disagree with what Sanaa had said that "if college students want to vote they should go back to their original state to vote". Voting shouldn't have any limits or restrictions. A person who wants to vote should be allowed to vote from where ever their location is. I also agree with what Matthew B had said that "What they did to the Virginia students was unfair". They had scared the students from losing scholarships or property in the U.S.

a.pervaiz

Anonymous said...

I feel that if the legal voting age is eighteen, college students should be able to vote. I understand where South Carolina is coming from saying that if a college student wants to register to vote in South Carolina they must have an intention to continue living in the state. It makes sense because someone who isn't going to live in your community shouldn't be picking your local leaders. I believe college students should be able to vote but not on their campuses. In order to vote, they should return home or send in an absentee ballot.

-Nalisa B.

O.Francis said...

i agree with matthew that you dont have to change your address in order to vote but then again it is not fair to go to somebody else's state and vote for somebody you dont know.That is because you only lived there for about 3-4 months and whoever you appoint as mayor;governor;it is not going to effect you the same way as the people that live there because to them you are just a alien-immagrant.

Anonymous said...

I think college students should vote because they have the right since they're also part of the country, but i don't necessarily agree that they should vote where they are going to college,because if they don't plan to live there they just screw that communtiy over. People also shouldn't make it so difficult for students to vote because they have a voice to and it should matter...and canidates should consider they're vote because it would help them out during elections...more people more votes.

-j.canales

n. demetrius said...

I think college kids should have the right to vote but just send an absentee ballet or go to where they really live. it really isn't fair to the people that live in the community, who should really be the ones making the change to their town.

R. Kaur said...

i disagree with matt frank, because i think that if college students live in that state/district for a few years, they should be considered resident's. they are the ones that will be living there even if it means for a few years. because it is unfair for the people living in their hometowns to have them come back and vote from their district since they dont even live there.

qnz1stladii said...

College students should be able to vote. The voting age is 18, if you don't want to vote than you simply don't . You have the option of voting if you do vote you should do research and understand what your voting for. Now if you go away for college I do agree with some of my classmates,you shouldn't vote for something that will effect the community in which your school is located because college is a short period of your life and to others that is home . Don't choose something if it has no effect on you .

-CMartinez

Anonymous said...

I think that students should have the right to vote, because they our future. I believe that this nation should trust their students judgement because they also like in our world and might have a little more knowlege about somethings.

Sanaa Elissa Awan said...

We should be able to vote in college. Just not for the area that the college is in. College students should fill out absentee ballots and vote for the officials in the area they are or will be living in away from college. Like Matt said, "College students live a different life from the average citizen in a small town and are not directly affected by the town's laws and policies." They outnumber the amount of residence and the decision that the college students make will have harsher outcomes on the residents.

Yes college students help them get more votes but they may not be in the town’s favor. A New Yorker will have different ethics that a resident of Texas. What is wanted from a public official is different in each state because they have distinct priorities and ways of life.

L. molina said...

I believe that once you turn 18 people should be able to vote without any restrictions. I disagree with what was said that if you live far away from the state you are voting from you should just go back to the state you are from and vote. It really shouldn't matter where you live or what state you are at the time of the elections. We all get only one chance to vote every four years and let our decisions be known. So whether it's in one side of the country that you vote or the other side it really shouldn't be a problem.

A.Hughey said...

i feel that first off its not fair that college students votes dont count. i dont see the point in us taking our time and voting and thinking about who we want as a leader if they only open up our votes if the votes are close. so the government is saying that if i decide to go away to college my vote doesnt count unless the votes for the two candidates are really close???? it doesnt make any sense to me.

Anonymous said...

College students should be able to vote. The voting age is 18, if you don't want to vote than you simply don't . You have the option of voting if you do vote you should do research and understand what your voting for. Now if you go away for college I do agree with some of my classmates,you shouldn't vote for something that will effect the community in which your school is located because college is a short period of your life and to others that is home . Don't choose something if it has no effect on you .

-CMartinez

JohnRay Vicencio said...

Honestly i dont feel this as a big issue. One thing that I feel is important to know is that because of that fact that college students contribute money to the community they should have a say. That is why political positions are not held for until they die. So in my opinion i feel as this issue is not as big as the other issues out there. If you put in money you should see it working for you.

_Jray Vicencio_

Alex D. said...

I feel that even if your in a different state because your studying to get a better education shouldn't stop you from voting for important issues. That effect everything for the next couple years .I believe that Virginia tech is abusing there power and is denying the student constitutional rights. The only thing I don’t understand would have to be the fact that way does Virginia tech care that there students are voting .

U. Cheema said...

College students should only vote for a presidential election which is on a broader scale on a national level. That is the only exception.

I agree with everything Matt Frank has said. It's absurd that someone became Mayor of Oneonta because he bribed college students with drinks to elect him the mayor. That should end all discussion of allowing college students that aren't from that state or district to vote in a local election.

K Singh said...

I think that college students should be able to vote where ever they live, because voting doesn't depond on where a person lives. Many people want to vote but they can't because of their age, voting is a privlege and should not matter about the locations. Also, in class some people said that college students shouldn't be allowed to vote and i think that is unfair and they should because everyone has their own opionion.

a vora said...

I think that college students really shouldn't be able to vote unless they actually know why there voting for who. I think that most student just vote for the heck of it, no one is forced to vote but it makes a difference, since every vote counts.


-A VORA

Gitu K. said...

The thought of collee students getting lied to so the oppenent can win is wrong and people should be aware of what is going on and change it. But then again people should vote were ever they want, thats there personal decsion. THe college students should know who there voting for and what they can do about before they vote too.

-Gitu

a.potter said...

I disagree with Matt Frank because I think college students should be allowed to vote. I think they are mature and smart enough to make a honest and fair vote. Everyones vote counts and someone much older could know something a college student wouldn't know and a college student could know something an older person won't know.

A Rao. said...

There should be a legal definition of a residence and not just by using a tax form to see if a student is a dependent. To avoid any confusion, any resident must fill out a form to clarify their residency. When moving out, they should contact the town's zoning board and notify them that they are moving out.