(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – With the Presidential elections looming, activists are working to increase the young voter turnout by encouraging them to vote in their college towns.
Luther Lowe, a co-founder of The Student Voting Rights Campaign, is working with his group to push students to be able to register where they attend school. Lowe, a senior at The College of William and Mary, said he saw the need for such an organization after the Williamsburg registrar attempted to prohibit students from voting in city council elections in which he was running. After hearing similar stories from across the country, Lowe and several others founded the nonpartisan organization this summer.
“My idea was to create a resource that allows students to have a better idea of what they’re doing,” he said.
The Student Voting Rights Campaign helps students who are having trouble registering in their college town by providing them with information, sending letters or making calls on their behalf, and assisting them in finding lawyers if necessary.
According to a Salisbury University study on Democracy and College Student Voting in 2001, only four states have laws that explicitly give students the right to choose the district in which to register-Wisconsin, Louisiana, North Carolina and Iowa. According to North Carolina statues, as quoted in the study, a student “may claim the college community as his domicile. He need not also intend to stay in the college community beyond graduation in order to establish his domicile there.”
The study also reports that 21 states are restrictive in their requirements and practices.
The District of Columbia does not have specific language, but in practice, students are given the choice about where to register. In Michigan, however, the State Legislature passed a bill in 2000 requiring students to vote in the district matching the address on their driver’s license.
In Ohio, a key swing state, students can register to vote using their college address as long as they have lived there at least 30 days prior to the election. This has prompted some students to change their registration to Ohio, where they feel their vote will mean more.
Activists said many students find extensive proof of residency and other requirements prevent them to register in their college town.
“We have had lots of problems with Virginia and New Hampshire,” said Lowe, whose organization receives daily calls and emails from students. “They’re challenged when they get to the polls; they’re told that their financial aid will be revoked or find that polling places are miles away,” said Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund at a District press conference on Sept. 22. “This is an affront to our principles of democracy.”
The League of Conservation Voters Project Democracy released a report in September detailing the barriers for students trying to register in their college community. Among the issues sited are voter intimidation, discrimination and vote suppression techniques.
The Student Voting Rights Campaign is partnered with several national organizations, such as Rock the Vote, the ACLU and the New Voters Project.
“Organizations interested in youth voter turn out have a strong incentive to participate with us,” Lowe said, adding that the group garners support from both College Republicans and Democrats across the country.
“I don’t think it’s a partisan issue,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be.”
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