Thursday, October 09, 2008

Disenfranchising Students in Virginia

Some North Carolina wag in the 19th century, familiar with the sometimes inherent snobbery of both Virginia and South Carolina, referred to our state as "a vale of humility between two mountains of conceit."

In Virginia's case, 134 county voter registrars know exactly what sort of people should be allowed to vote. College students very often do not pass the test. In a state with 161 colleges and 483,159 students, the conceit of the registrars is patently unconstitutional.

We had already heard about the Montgomery County registrar, Randall Wertz, who issued official warnings to Virginia Tech students in Blacksburg that, by registering, "you have declared your independence from your parents and can no longer be claimed as a dependent on their income tax filings .... If you have a scholarship attached to your former residence, you could lose this funding." The first statement is just an outright lie: the right to vote has absolutely nothing to do with being a dependent on your parents' IRS forms, and the second statement seems to give away its own falsity with that strategically placed verb "could." You could also learn to fly off the roof of your dorm.

Worse is Juanita Pitchford, the registrar for Fredericksburg, where the University of Mary Washington is located. Pitchford, the most blueblood of Virginia registrars, requires that all students interview with her before registering, "so she can decide on a case-by-case basis whether they can vote."

Are you kidding me? No, evidently not. Reminds us of the situation in Boone 40 years ago, when virtually the only bank writing mortgages for houses required an interview with a bank officer whose first question probed which church you were a member of.

The Supreme Court in 1979 settled the issue of student registration and voting rights. A college student may register and vote where he/she is in school, even if the place of residence is a dorm with Green Day blasting out of every room.

Students in North Carolina, thank God, are not being harassed like students in Virginia. That will change if Pat McCrory is elected governor and the Republican Party takes over control of our 100 county boards of election. There will be little or no accommodation of students.

You betcha.

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