Federal court in Newport News asked to order registrar to allow student to vote

[Williamsburg] The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a William and Mary student who was denied the right to register to vote in Williamsburg. The student, Seth Saunders, not only wants to vote in the May city council election but also intends to run for a seat on council. In order to do that he must be registered himself and have collected 125 signatures in support of his candidacy by March 2.
In papers filed earlier today, Saunders asked the U.S. District Court in Newport News to order the Williamsburg voter registrar to permit him to register immediately.
Saunders lives in Williamsburg, but his mother lives in Tappahannock and his father lives in Hanover County. He was told to register in Hanover because his father claims him as a dependent for income tax purposes.
Under Virginia’s voting laws a person must have an abode and be domiciled in the place where they register to vote. Domicile is defined as the place where one lives and intends to remain for an indefinite amount of time, but the courts have made it clear that even homeless people have a right to vote.
“Seth lives in Williamsburg and wants to participate in community affairs there,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “He does not live, nor does he plan to live, with his mother or his father. It may not be obvious to the Williamsburg registrar where Seth should vote, but common sense and the Constitution side with his right to cast his ballot in Williamsburg.”
“Seth is typical of many college students,” added Willis. “They leave home for school and become politically involved in their new communities. But when they try to vote there, they are told to register at their parents’ address -- in a community where they do not live, where they have no intention of living in the future, and where they have no interest in local affairs.”
Students faced similar difficulties in Fredericksburg in 2000 and Blacksburg in 2002, after they initiated movements to register students locally. In those cases, registrars indicated they would not block student applications, after the ACLU complained. In a letter sent last week, the ACLU asked the Williamsburg registrar to give more latitude to students who wished to register in local elections.
An ACLU survey conducted in 2000 revealed that registrars are inconsistent when it comes to accepting applications from college students who want to vote in local elections. The majority, however, seem to allow local registration.
A copy of the papers filed in court today is available by contacting the ACLU of Virginia at 804-644-8022 or acluva@acluva.org