ACLU Offers Aid to William and Mary Students Barred from Voting in Local Elections

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
March 28, 2006 12:00 am

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WILLIAMSBURG, VA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia announced today that it is offering to assist William and Mary students who have been barred from registering to vote as residents of Williamsburg, where the college is located.

“Students should register to vote in the place that they perceive as home, whether that’s their hometown or the jurisdiction where they attend college,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Registrars who prevent students from deciding which place is appropriate for them to vote are not only depriving students of a fundamental constitutional right, but they are also discouraging them from participating in the democratic process.”

In 2004 the ACLU of Virginia represented several William and Mary students who were not allowed to register in Williamsburg. In one case, involving student Luther Lowe, the Williamsburg Circuit Court judge ordered the registrar to place him on the Williamsburg voter rolls. In another, a student originally rejected by the registrar was allowed to register during the appeal of her case.

The ACLU of Virginia’s announcement comes one week after William and Mary President Gene Nichol sent an email to William and Mary students encouraging them to register to vote in local elections and criticizing Williamsburg Registrar David Andrews for blocking student registrations. An ACLU survey conducted several years ago indicates that most registrars in college towns in Virginia allow students to register to vote in local elections without question.

Willis said the ACLU will be available to review rejected applications, advise students on how to make corrections, and if the circumstances warrant, file lawsuits on behalf of students.

The ACLU has been active in several areas of the state where registrars have resisted local registration by college students. University of Mary Washington students faced similar difficulties in Fredericksburg in 2000 after starting a campus organization to increase student participation in local politics. Two years later in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech students were rebuffed by the registrar after one student decided to run for mayor. After the ACLU complained, registrars in those localities indicated they would not automatically block student applications.

A bill was introduced in the Virginia General Assembly this year to address the problems students have encountered when registering to vote in local elections, but it failed to pass.

The registration deadline for Williamsburg is April 3. The ACLU of Virginia is informing students of its services through its William and Mary campus chapter, and by asking school officials and student officers to disseminate this information.

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