Registering to vote in D.C. has drawbacks

GW Votes registered 500 GW students to vote in the District in its recent drive to increase campus participation in local politics. But by giving up the right to vote in their home states, many GW students forfeited other privileges.

But Adam Siple, director of the GW Votes campaign, said he believes it is more advantageous for GW students to be registered to vote in the District.

“The decisions that are made by the local government of this community directly affect students’ lives, and they should take part in that,” Siple said

District residents are the only American citizens who pay federal taxes but have no voting representation in Congress. D.C. is represented in Congress by Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is a non-voting member of the House of Representatives.

Siple said students’ votes are far more valuable in local District elections than in elections for Congress in their home states.

“If you vote for a senator in your home state, you will be one vote among hundreds of thousands,” he said. “Students don’t realize the impact their votes can have. (Advisory Neighborhood Commission) elections are usually won by 80 or 100 votes.

“Also, it’s hard for students to follow politics back in their home states and voting there is sometimes a less educated vote.”

But Siple said that by registering to vote in the District, students are giving up their representation in national debates, such as the possible upcoming impeachment hearings.

Students risk losing more than representation on national issues by registering to vote in the District. Voter registration officially changes students’ residency, which could cause a few students to lose state financial aide .

Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Maine are among the few states that give state aid to students who attend GW, according to GW’s Office of Student Financial Assistance. Most student aid is funded by the federal government, however.

Dependent students – who are financially dependent on their parents and pay taxes in their home states – will not lose their aid if they register to vote in the District. But financially independent students from these states could lose their state financial aid if they change their residency by registering in the District, said Daniel Small, director of student financial assistance.

Small said his office had not come across any students who had lost aid by registering to vote in the District.

Siple said when GW Votes registers students, volunteers do not register students who could face a loss of state financial aid.

“If issues were raised, we addressed them,” he said. “But we didn’t explain to everyone that D.C. is not represented in Congress, I think most students know that.”

Students can re-register in their home states after the election by filling out a form on the MTV Rock the Vote Web site, or the federal voting Web site.

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