Second student is turned down but is likely to appeal decision to Virginia Supreme CourtA Virginia circuit court judge today ordered the Williamsburg registrar to allow William and Mary Student Luther Lowe to register to vote in local elections and to run as a candidate for city council. The judge’s decision overturns the registrar’s denial of Lowe’s application to vote and allows his name to appear on the May ballots for city council, even though the filing deadline for candidates was March 2.
The ACLU of Virginia, which provides legal representation to Lowe, believes that many registrars in Virginia unconstitutionally deny students the right to vote in the jurisdictions where they attend school.
“By state law, registrars are supposed to encourage people to register to vote,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “A student who does not intend to return to his hometown to live and who has developed an interest in the community where his college is located, ought to be able to vote in that community. When registrars prevent that from happening they are not only depriving students of a fundamental constitutional right, but they are also discouraging them from participating in the democratic process.”
Lowe is from Arkansas, but has established residency in Virginia. He pays instate tuition and has made a six-year commitment to the Virginia National Guard. The Williamsburg registrar refused to allow him to register in Williamsburg and told him to register in Arkansas where his parents, who still claim him as a dependent, live.
Lowe was one of three William and Mary students who challenged the rejection of their voter registration applications in federal court earlier this week. The federal court recommended that two of the students, Lowe and Serene Alami, take their cases to state court since that remedy was still available to them. The federal court refused to order immediate relief for the third student, Seth Saunders, saying that the deadline for his appeal to the state court had passed and that he was not likely to prevail on the merits of his case.
In today’s state court decision, the judge did not order the registrar to allow Alami vote. Alami lives in Williamsburg, intends to remain there, and does not intend to live again with her parents in Roanoke. The registrar told her to register in Roanoke because her parents claim her as a dependent. She will most likely appeal today’s decision to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Mary Washington College 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 in 2002, 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 block student applications.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022