Radford University students whose applications are rejected are urged to contact the ACLU of Virginia for legal assistanceRichmond, VA -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia yesterday emailed a letter to the General Registrar for the City of Radford asking that he cease sending misleading postcards to Radford University college students who are attempting to register to vote using their dormitory as their home address. The postcard, sent after the student’s application has been filed with the registrar, states that the application cannot be processed until a “home address” is provided to the registrar.
“This can only be construed as an attempt to dissuade students from registering to vote in Radford, or a ploy to trick them into providing contradictory information that could stall the registration process past the deadline,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.
“Nearly everyone, except members of the Virginia General Assembly, agrees that Virginia’s law on where one registers to vote is confusing,” added Willis. “But that’s no excuse for registrars to deliberately mislead students who are trying to participate in the electoral process.”
The ACLU of Virginia is prepared to assist any student whose voter registration application is rejected because they attempted to register to vote where they attend school. Virginia law requires a person to vote where they have an abode (that is, where they sleep) and where they are domiciled (a place they intend to stay indefinitely). With more than one abode and no plans to remain in any one place indefinitely, it is not always clear whether college students should register to vote in their hometowns or where they attend school.
But the section of the State Board of Elections’ website pertaining to student registrations says: “ A person’s domicile is essentially a matter of subjective intent known only to that person.” Until a few weeks ago, when it was abruptly changed, the website contained the following, more emphatic, message to students: “You are the one to determine and declare the city, county and state in which you claim your legal residence.”
“Most people have one obvious primary address, and that’s where they register,” added Willis. “But college students, almost all of whom live in more than one place during the course of the year, must decide which address is their primary one. For many, it’s where they attend school—the place they call home for nine months out of the year. Legally, those students have a right to register where they attend college.”
“State law says registrars are supposed to “encourage” voters to register,” said Willis. “Registrars should be helping students decide where they should register to vote, not placing obstacles in their way that may discourage them from participating in our democratic form of government.”
The ACLU’s letter to the Radford registrar follows a recently reported incident in Montgomery County where the registrar told college students that their parents may no longer be able to claim them as dependants for tax purposes or that they may lose scholarships if they declare a separate college address for voting purposes.
The Lynchburg Commissioner of Revenue recently warned students not to register locally, saying he would check to see it students’ cars were registered in Lynchburg and fine those who had failed to do so. The remarks came in the wake of attempts by Jerry Falwell, Jr. to encourage Liberty University students to vote in local elections.
In 2000, the ACLU criticized the Fredericksburg registrar for refusing to allow students with dormitory addresses to register for local elections. The registrar later agreed not to automatically reject applications from students living on campus. In 2004, the ACLU provided legal representation to four William and Mary students whose applications to register in local elections had been rejected.
Copies of the ACLU’s correspondence with the Radford registrar are available at the following link: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20080930-Radford-Registrar.pdf.
Contact: Kent Willis (office) 804/ 644-8022