ACLU Notifies College Students of Expanded Voter Registration Rights in Virginia

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
September 25, 2009 12:00 am


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Richmond, VA – With the voter registration deadline approaching, the American Civil Liberties Union has sent an electronic flyer to approximately 400 college campus organizations at 33 Virginia colleges, encouraging students to take advantage of a new State Board of Elections’ policy permitting them to register to vote in the jurisdiction where they attend college.

The flyer also lets students know that the ACLU is prepared to assist them if they encounter any difficulties in the registration process.

“Although the State Board of Elections’ new residency rules remain murky in places and could create new headaches for voters in general, they do eliminate the two main obstacles students have encountered when they attempt to register to vote,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “For the first time, it is absolutely clear that registrars may not turn down students’ applications on the pretext that a dormitory address does not qualify as a residence or that students do not meet the domicile requirement because they may be moving upon graduation.”

Over the last ten years, the ACLU has filed lawsuits on behalf of students denied the right to register, written numerous letters to registrars on behalf of individual students, and advocated for clear rules establishing the right of students to vote where they attend college. However, until the new state policy was adopted in August, registrars were free to interpret Virginia’s nebulous residency laws however they pleased. As a result, some college students were allowed to register to vote in local elections and others were not.

“We believe that students have a constitutional right to vote where they attend college and have successfully represented individual students using that legal principle,” added Willis, “but the new rules mean that registrars will finally be on the same page with us.”

The ACLU’s flyer also addresses obstacles students may still face. For example, if a student offers a residence address (e.g., dormitory) that is in a different jurisdiction from the mailing address (e.g., parents’ address) the application to register will be delayed.

The ACLU also warns students not to be confused by the voter registration form’s requirement that they give a “permanent” address. The ACLU has found that college administrators often ask students to distinguish between their college address and permanent address, the latter being the parents’ address. Students who wish to vote locally are advised to place their dormitory or apartment address in this line, not their parents’ address.

A copy of the ACLU’s flyer can be found online at: www.acluva.org/publications/StudentRegistration09.pdf

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