Fox Hunting Student Voters
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Juliana Zuccaro and Kelly Kraus thought they were exercising their civic rights and responsibilities on Aug. 31 when, as officers of the Network of Feminist Student Activists at the University of Arizona in Tucson, they helped set up a voter-registration drive on the UA mall. Imagine their astonishment when the local Fox affiliate news team showed up and lit into the young women. "The reporter asked if we knew that we were potentially signing students up to commit felonies," Juliana told me – by registering out-of-state students to vote in Arizona. When Kelly then asserted that Arizona law requires only that those registering be resident in the state twenty-nine days before the election, Natalie Tejeda, the Fox reporter, insisted it was illegal to register students. On the news that night, student voter registration was the crime du jour:
Tejeda: What many don't realize is that legally, students from out of state aren't eligible to vote in Arizona because they're considered temporary residents.
Chris Roads [Pima County Registrar's office]: If they are only here to attend school and their intention is to immediately return to where they came from when school is over then they are not residents of the state of Arizona for voting purposes and they cannot register to vote here.
Tejeda: ...Those caught misrepresenting their residency can face a severe punishment.
Roads: The form in Arizona is an affidavit; it is a felony offense if you are lying on that form.
Tejeda: So how easy is it to get caught? Well, starting this past January all voter applications are cross-checked with the Motor Vehicles Department and Social Security Administration. If they find that you are falsifying your residency you could be prosecuted. At this time we don't know if anybody has yet been indicted, but Roads says one of the easiest things you can do to avoid all that is simply go online or pick up the phone, call your home state's elections office and ask for an absentee ballot.
Anchor: Better to be safe on that one. Thanks, Natalie.
Misguided youth or hardened criminals? They report, you decide.
When an urgent e-mail from UA professor Laura Briggs about the Fox broadcast flashed across my screen a few days later, I assumed that such an egregious example of voter intimidation by proxy – with GOP TV standing in for, well, the GOP – would be all over the media by the time my next column deadline rolled around, so I passed on it. Silly me. As I write three weeks later, almost nothing has appeared outside the local press. The silence persisted even after the Feminist Majority – which had spearheaded the students' drive as part of its Get Out Her Vote campaign – held a press conference to publicize the incident. In those three weeks, how many stories have you read bemoaning the apathy of youth, and in particular the fecklessness of young women too "busy" shoe shopping and barhopping to focus on the election?
In fact, despite a 1979 Supreme Court ruling affirming their right to vote where they attend school, students often encounter difficulties when they try to exercise that right. A recent Harvard survey of 249 colleges and universities found that more than one-third weren't complying with the law requiring them to help students register and vote. What's more, local and state officials have tried to prevent students from registering or voting at William and Mary, the University of New Hampshire, Skidmore, Hamilton and Henderson State University in Arkansas, among others. Students at predominantly African-American Prairie View A&M in Waller County, Texas, were threatened with prosecution if they voted without "a legal voting address" by the District Attorney in a series of letters to the local paper. Strangely enough, it was earlier attempts to suppress the vote of Prairie View students that prompted the Supreme Court's 1979 ruling.
When I spoke to Chris Roads, the official quoted in Tejeda's story – yes, he's a Republican – he claimed that Fox had quoted him out of context. His mention of "felony" was originally addressed to a "hypothetical" posed by Tejeda: What would he say to someone who planned to flat-out lie – who said, "I don't live here, can I fill out the form?" Roads says he was "shocked when it blossomed into a story about prosecuting people" for registering – in fact, he told me, no one has ever been prosecuted in Arizona over residency requirements. What is residency, exactly? "Residency means you intend to remain," he went on.
"So it's a subjective thing?" I asked. "You look into your heart?"
"That's right," he said. "You look into your heart."
Roads is a genial man and I enjoyed our chat. Like "intend," "remain" turns out to be a verb as flexible in meaning for registrars as "is" was for Bill Clinton, and don't get him started on "resident"! But despite demands from the students and from Feminist Majority, he did not publicly clarify his comments on Fox News. That was left to his boss, F. Ann Rodriguez, a Democrat, who finally stated on Sept. 9 that out-of-state students may vote. Fox has not only failed to correct its original report; it has continued to suggest on the air that out-of-state students who register in Arizona are breaking the law and could end up in big trouble. And the state bureaucracy is still providing misleading or confusing information: When Nation intern Raina Lipsitz called the Arizona Secretary of State's office to ask if an out-of-state student may vote, she was repeatedly told that she couldn't register in two states at once and, finally, that she should read the statute herself.
The young feminists have done a wonderful job of publicizing the right of students to register and vote. They've held a press conference and reached out to the community, Democratic lawmakers and other student groups. Even the young Republicans – whose registration efforts down the mall from the young feminists were ignored by Fox – have supported them. Juliana and Kelly are now hard at work planning their next registration drive. They're calling it STILL Getting Out Her Vote.
Katha Pollitt is a columnist for The Nation.