9/21/08

Election board breaks the law for Barack

Voter fraud in Virginia may not involve ACORN

Norfolk election officials on Friday reluctantly loosened procedures for registering college students to vote after protests from presidential candidate Barack Obama's campaign and an admonishment from state election officials.

The Illinois senator's campaign complained that the Norfolk registrar's policy of sending a questionnaire to anyone applying to register from a college campus discouraged students from following through. The State Board of Elections asked general registrar Elisa J. Long to halt the practice.

The Norfolk Electoral Board agreed to that but said in a statement: "This compliance is with the understanding that the Board strongly feels that by doing so, we are out of compliance with Virginia Election Laws."

Kevin Griffis, a spokesman for Obama's campaign in Virginia, said Norfolk's practice was "completely ridiculous" and had "a chilling effect on voter registration on campuses."

Obama's campaign has been aggressively registering students in Virginia, viewed as a battleground state. Griffis said Obama "is energizing young voters in a way that's not happened in a generation or more."

Of Virginia's 49,000 new registrations in August, 43 percent were age 23 and under, he said.

State law requires registrars to decide eligibility based on two components of residence: place of abode and domicile. Long said the questionnaire had been used to determine domicile and was based on suggested questions from the state elections office. Abode is address.

"The frustration is that the code says you may ask questions to help you make the determination of domicile, yet now we're being told we cannot use a questionnaire," Long said.

"Domicile is a tricky question; we don't consider any one thing," she said. Questions included whether the students pay out-of-state tuition, pay Virginia income taxes or have a Virginia driver's license.

Long said she does not know how a student's residency status now will be determined.

Mary Alana Welch, a 21-year-old student at Old Dominion University, received one of the questionnaires.

"It was a big deterrent," she said. "It gave me the impression I wasn't supposed to be registering here."

She said she never returned it and is still figuring out how to change her registration from Northern Virginia to Norfolk.

To cast her first vote, she wants to go to the polls instead of sending in an absentee ballot.

Long and the Norfolk Electoral Board are urging that the General Assembly clarify the student voter registration policy.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia agrees.

"College students are in a unique situation.... They live in two places," the organization's executive director, Kent Willis, said. "The state law does not address that properly."

"If homeless people have the right to vote by choosing their principal residence, college students ought to have the same right."

Long said she's now reviewing an application from a student from Savannah, Ga., who pays out-of-state tuition, is declared as a dependent in Georgia and has a Georgia driver's license and car registration.

"What automatically makes these out-of-state students Virginians?" she asked.

The Norfolk Electoral Board statement reads: "Although the revised policy guidelines places the burden of proof of residence with the person asserting it, the policy allows students to claim residence in Virginia unchallenged."

Firestorm s erupted in a few other Virginia college towns this month - including Blacksburg with Virginia Tech - over college student registrations, particularly those of out-of-state students.

Registrars in two other local cities with colleges - Virginia Beach and Williamsburg - said they do not use questionnaires. Newport News officials could not be reached.

(hamptonroads.com)

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