ACLU Urges Registrars to Allow Students to Register to Vote in Local Elections

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
September 3, 2008 12:00 am

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College Newspapers Asked to Get Word out That ACLU Can Help

Richmond, VA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia this morning is faxing letters to 30 local registrars urging them to allow students to register to vote where they attend school. The registrars were selected because they oversee voter registrations in areas where college students are likely to live.

The ACLU’s letter follows a recently reported incident in Montgomery County where the registrar told college students that their parents may no longer be able to claim them as dependents for tax purposes if they declare a separate college address for voting purposes.

The ACLU has also sent emails to college newspapers today asking them to warn students of the problems they may encounter when attempting to register and to let students know that they may contact the ACLU for assistance.

The issue is not a new one in Virginia or for the ACLU. In 2000, the ACLU criticized the Fredericksburg registrar for refusing to allow students with dormitory addresses to register for local elections. The registrar later agreed not to automatically reject applications from students living on campus. In 2004, the ACLU provided legal representation to several William and Mary students whose applications to register in local elections had been rejected.

An informal ACLU poll conducted several years ago indicated that registrars in Virginia inconsistently interpret the law regarding student registration. Yet the State Board of Elections website contains the following message to students: “You are the one to determine and declare the city, county and state in which you claim your legal residence.”

“Voting is not just about national elections,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “It’s also about who represents you in the state legislature, on city council and on the school board. So it makes a difference where you register to vote.”

“Most people have one obvious primary address, and that’s where they register,” added Willis. “But college students, almost all of whom live in more than one place during the course of the year, must decide which address is their primary one. For many, it’s where they attend school — the place they call home for nine months out of the year.”

“While registrars should assist students who are uncertain about where they should register, no registrar should question students who make the choice to vote where they attend school,” said Willis.

Copies of the ACLU’s letters to registrars, including a list of localities to which the letter was sent, and college newspapers are available at:

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