Posted by Adam Fogel on August 13, 2009The Roanoke Times reports that a Virginia Board of Elections Task Force has concluded that students and members of the military should be allowed to register to vote, even if they are not planning to stay in Virginia after the election. We blogged back in September that the Virginia Board of Elections was threatening students attending Virginia colleges and universities that they could lose financial aid, scholarships and even their status as dependents on their parents' tax returns if they register to vote using their school address. Local election officials did not have direction from the state BOE, so they made the decisions on their own, which led to a lack of uniformity in how the rule was enforced. With Virginia's new found status as a "Purple State" in the 2008 presidential election, students and members of the military had a much greater incentive to declare Virginia their permanent place of residence. The panel's recommendation now goes to the State Board of Elections, but it will unfortunately be "too late to implement the changes in time for this year's general election."
Virginia, of course, isn't the first state to dissuade students from voting where they attend college. During the Democratic Primary contest, back in January 2008, there were reports of the Clinton campaign discouraging Iowa college students who weren't originally from the state from caucusing. The thinking at the time, which turned out to be absolutely true, was that students would overwhelmingly caucus for eventual nominee (and now president) Barack Obama. If you don't remember, take a look at this post from election law expert and law professor Rick Hasen.
Another authority on this topic is GW law professor and current Justice Department official Spencer Overton. In his excellent book, Stealing Democracy: The New Politics of Voter Suppression, he tells the story of a district attorney in Texas threatening to prosecute students who attempted to run for office and vote at the historically Black college, Prairie View A & M University. The local election officials also reduced the polling hours at the precinct closest to the campus to make it more difficult for students to vote.
While Virginia's special Task Force came to the right conclusion about this issue, the fight for voting rights for students in far from over. Now the full Board of Elections must take action to ensure these eligible students have the chance to register and vote where they attend school. Other states should also look at their laws and administrative policies so local officials do not prevent eligible voters from participating in the political process.