State court option is still open for two students; petitions to be filed soonThe U.S. District Court in Norfolk today refused to order the Williamsburg registrar to allow three William and Mary students to register vote in local elections. The registrar had earlier rejected the voter applications of all three students, saying they should be registering at the address of their parents, who claim them as dependents on their taxes.
The three students, all of whom had hoped to run for seats on the Williamsburg City Council in May, had until the end of today to be registered to vote and to file their petitions for candidacy.
Federal district judge Raymond Jackson did advise two of the students, Serene Alami and Luther Lowe, to take their cases to the Circuit Court in Williamsburg. The judge made it clear that if the Circuit Court allows the students to register, the registrar ought to accept their petitions for candidacy, even though the deadline for filing the petitions will have passed.
It is too late for the third student, Seth Saunders, to file with the Circuit Court as his deadline has passed.
“We have not given up yet,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. We believe that Alami and Lowe should be allowed to register to vote and run as candidates for council, and we will help them with their appeal to the state court.”
“Nothing is more fundamental than the right to cast your ballot in a democracy,” added Willis. “Forcing students to cast absentee ballots in their hometowns where they neither live now nor plan to live in the future reduces the meaning of their votes and ultimately discourages them from becoming involved in the political process.”
Luther Lowe is a good example of how the current voter registration system fails students. Lowe is from Arkansas but has established residency in Virginia. He pays instate tuition and has made a six-year commitment to the Virginia National Guard. The Williamsburg Registrar told him to register using his parents’ Arkansas address because they still claim him as a dependent.
Mary Washington College students faced similar difficulties in Fredericksburg in 2000 after starting a campus organization to increase student participation in local politics. Two years later in Blacksburg in 2002, Virginia Tech students were rebuffed by the registrar after one student decided to run for mayor. In those cases, registrars indicated they would not block student applications, after the ACLU complained.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022