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Student Voter Registration Faces New Obstacles in Virginia

Local officials interpret residency rules to discourage student voting.
 
 
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Stories of transient students being misled about their voting rights or missing registration deadlines are nothing new. But the prominent role young voters have been playing in this year's presidential campaign has led student advocates to redouble their efforts to register, educate, and protect student voters this election cycle.

It appears that the Barack Obama campaign, which has won the support of many college-aged voters, is also being vigilant about monitoring student-voter issues this campaign season.

Officials with the Democratic candidate's campaign were quick to challenge a statement issued last week by officials in Montgomery County, Va., that the campaign believed could have a "chilling effect" on student voter-registration efforts, according to The Roanoke Times.

The statement, by Randy Wertz, registrar of Montgomery County, said that Virginia Tech students who registered to vote by listing their campus addresses were essentially changing their permanent addresses under state law, according to the newspaper. Doing so, Mr. Wertz wrote, could affect students' eligibility for scholarships or their tax filings and would obligate them to change car registrations and their driver's license to their permanent address.

Officials at Sen. Obama's campaign said they had never heard of students' dependency status on their parents' tax forms being affected by their voter registration, the newspaper reported. They added that other laws the release cited are rarely enforced or subject to interpretation.

Mr. Wertz then issued a second statement two days later, saying the county cannot give out tax advice, The Times said.

"They thought we might be intimidating the students and keeping them from registering," the newspaper quoted Mr. Wertz as saying. "That certainly was not our intent."

The campaign's response reflects Virginia's position as an important battleground state in this year's presidential election, The Times said, and the incident highlights long-standing concerns that a gray area in Virginia election law regarding residency could leave college students vulnerable to having their registrations challenged because of their transient status.

"What we believe is that if a student is living on campus, that's a perfectly acceptable residence to register to vote," the newspaper quoted Kevin Griffis, a Richmond-based spokesman for the Obama campaign, as saying. The Times also said Mr. Wertz agreed with that statement and said he has no plans to challenge anyone who lists his or her college address when registering to vote.

 
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