Monday, September 08, 2008

Student voting rights!

I have been very disturbed by the stories from Inside Higher Ed, picked up in the New York Times, about actions by a Virginia county registrar that discourage local Virginia Tech students from registering to vote. The Montgomery County Registrar's Office put out an official memo that warned students about registering to vote using their campus address. It warned, erroneously, of students losing scholarships, being thrown off their parents' insurance, and no longer being able to be claimed on their parents' tax return.

The NYTimes article notes that the Supreme Court ruled years ago, in 1979, that students can register to vote using their campus addresses. In fact, the Roanoke Times notes that a student at Virginia Tech fought for the right to register and vote more than 20 years ago. Students across the country have voting rights, like anyone else who meets the voting criteria. Virginia needs to clarify the voting procedures for students, so that there is no question that they can vote using their campus address.

Most undergraduate students are traditional age, and their first few years at college represent their first time being able to vote. Their first presidential election will likely happen during their undergraduate years. How can we be discouraging them from voting?

And why wouldn't they vote in their college district? Undergraduate students live for a majority of their year in the academic setting, and they become familiar with the issues that affect their lives in that context and the elected officials who represent them there. These students can learn to become better citizens if they get the chance to participate in the elections that affect them where they live, where they can meet the candidates and attend the local meetings.

Honorable colleges and universities, not to mention county registrars, encourage students to register and vote. My own university leader wrote a personal note to students to that effect, and I could not have been prouder of my school and its leadership.

I am disgusted by the actions of the Montgomery County registrar, and inactions of the larger Commonwealth of Virginia's legislators, who seem to be working to suppress student turnout. What makes this even more problematic is that Montgomery County’s General Registrar of Elections, E. Randall Wertz, "was elected president of the Voter Registrar’s Association of Virginia (VRAV) for a two-year term. The VRAV, which represents the registrars in 134 cities and counties throughout Virginia, provides educational opportunities and social interaction for its members. It strives to improve the voter registration election processes and promote efficient administration within the offices of General Registrars." (

Perhaps Mr. Wertz will use this public discussion as an opportunity to challenge Virginia to do better by its college students and facilitate, rather than impede, their civic participation.


Anonymous said...

There is also always absentee--we used to gather ballots from as many states as possible and hand them out at a table when I was in college (pre-web era). So much easier to request them now!

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