By AARON RILEY
In an election where one of the larger turnouts of student voters seems feasible, local registrars in Virginia and Colorado have been accused of issuing releases to campuses falsely warning that students who have registered to vote at their college could no longer be listed as dependent on their parents’ tax returns and could even lose scholarships or coverage under their parents’ car and health insurance.
The situation has incited criticism from Democrats toward El Paso County clerk and recorder Robert Balink, who was a delegate to the Republican National Convention for taking measures that could hinder and discourage student voters, a demographic that is expected to predominantly favor Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. The McClatchy-Tribune News Service reported Sept. 24 that Balink issued a statement saying his office had misinterpreted state law and “mistakenly published information that was incorrect.” The state law in question infers that if a student is listed as dependant on his or her parents’ income tax return, it is a claim that their address is their primary residence.
Additionally, students living in dormitories must demonstrate their “intent to claim this locale as their home when they finish school,” said Conway Belangia, director of registration and elections of Greenville County, South Carolina. However, the release stating that there would be dire consequences for university students who registered to vote there was “an error,” along with the assertion that nonnative students cannot vote in the county, according to Belangia.
Nevertheless, according to some, the counties’ policies infringe upon students’ voting rights regardless of the validity of Balink’s releases. Sujatha Jahagirdar, program director of the Student Public Interest Research Group’s New Voters Project in Washington, states that the counties’ policies are “intimidating” and they “send a message that young voters are not welcome in our democracy just when they’re first enjoying the right to vote.” She continues, “There’s no issue for snowbirds who live in Iowa but fly to Florida for the winter. One demographic group, like students, shouldn’t have to overcome a special hurdle to vote. We impose all the responsibilities of citizenship on students, and we have to provide them with the privileges of citizenship too.”
Information gathered from McClatchy Newspapers and the NY Times.