The ACLU of Virginia has asked the Virginia Supreme Court to allow William and Mary student Serene Alami to register to vote in the City of Williamsburg. Alami was one of several William and Mary students who were told by the Williamsburg voter registrar that they must register in the jurisdiction where their parents live, rather than where they attend school.
Although a student, Alami works, lives, registers her car, and intends to remain in Williamsburg. However, because she is claimed as a dependent by her parents, the Williamsburg registrar told her to register in Roanoke where her parents live. Alami and another student, Luther Lowe, whose application to register in Williamsburg was also denied, asked the Williamsburg Circuit Court to order the registrar to allow them to register to vote in local elections.
The Circuit Court agreed that Lowe should have been allowed to register, but did not support Alami’s claim. Lowe had been rejected by the registrar for reasons similar to Alami’s. Although a member of the Virginia National Guard and a resident of Virginia paying in-state tuition, Lowe was told by the registrar to register in Arkansas, where his parents live and claim him as a dependant for tax purposes.
The ACLU believes that many registrars in Virginia unconstitutionally deny students the right to vote in the jurisdictions where they attend school. “Some registrars seem to have decided to do whatever they can to keep students from voting in local elections,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “Every student may not qualify to vote locally, but any student who no longer resides in his hometown and who has developed an interest in the community where he attends college, ought to be able to vote in that community.”
“When registrars block students from registering to vote in local elections they not only deprive them of a constitutional right, but they also discourage them from participating in our democracy,” added Willis. “That is the exact opposite of what registrars ought to be doing.”
Alami and Lowe first took their complaint to federal court, but were told to go to the Williamsburg Circuit Court because the deadline for an appeal in state court had not passed. The federal court refused to order temporary relief for a third student, Seth Saunders, saying his state court deadline had passed and that he was not likely to prevail on the merits of his case.
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, 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.
Alami is represented by ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca K. Glenberg and Richard E. Hill, Jr. of Williamsburg. A copy of the petition for appeal, filed on June 22, is available electronically by contacting the ACLU at acluva@acluva.org or the number below.

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022 Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022

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