Oneida County Board of Elections Urged to Allow Students to Vote in Their College Community

May 26, 2004

For Immediate Release
May 26, 2004

Contact:
NYCLU, Sheila Stainback 212-344-3005
Brennan Center, Natalia Kennedy 212-998-6736
NYPIRG, Russ Haven 518 436-0876

ONEIDA COUNTY BOARD
OF ELECTIONS URGED TO ALLOW STUDENTS TO VOTE IN THEIR COLLEGE COMMUNITY

Three New York
civil rights groups are asking the Oneida County Board of Elections to change
its policy regarding voter registration by students of Hamilton College.
The New York Civil Liberties Union ("NYCLU"), the New York Public
Interest Research Group ("NYPIRG"), and the Brennan Center for
Justice at NYU School of Law take issue with the County Board's directive
"encouraging students to register and vote from their home communities." The
groups say that the County
Board's opposition to
student registration in the campus community violates settled law and will work
to disenfranchise students.

"Federal court precedent prohibits
election officials from denying college students the right to register to vote
in the communities where they attend school," says Arthur Eisenberg, Legal
Director of the NYCLU. "Students, like all other voters, must be permitted to
vote in the communities in which they have their greatest immediate contacts.
For most students, that community is their college town."

The Oneida County Board of Elections has
sent a form letter to college students who have attempted to register to vote
where they are attending college. The letter basically tells college students
to vote as residents of their parental home. In a letter cosigned by the Brennan Center and NYPIRG, the NYCLU cites three
precedents ignored by the Board of Elections.

  • Local
    officials cannot deny an applicant the right to register to vote because he or
    she is a student or resides in a college dormitory.
  • Elected
    officials must apply the same standards for determining voting residency to
    students as it does for non-students.
  • The
    "only constitutionally permissible test" for voting residency is one that
    focuses on the individual's present intentions; the objective is to determine
    where the center of the individual's life is now.

College students carry out the daily
activities of their lives in their college towns and often take part-time jobs
there as they study, eat and sleep in those communities. These students no
longer live in their parental home and most have no intention of returning
there. For these students, the appropriate voting residence is in the community
where they attend school.

The letter calls on the Oneida Board of
Elections to rescind its form letter and to comply with constitutional
standards governing the right of college students to vote. "At a time when
voter turnout for young people has reached catastrophically low rates, it is
critically important that Oneida County remove all legal and administrative barriers
to student voting," says Jennifer Weiser, Associate Counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice. "If young
people are unable to register the first time they attempt to vote, they are
unlikely to participate in our democracy in the future."

"Oneida County can't have it both ways,
welcoming students with open arms because colleges underpin the local economy
and then slamming the door to the polling place shut when students want to vote
in the communities where they live," said NYPIRG Senior Staff Counsel Russ Haven.
"This is an ultimate ‘dis' to students and blatantly illegal."