September 11, 2008
Secretary of Virginia State Board of Elections
200 North 9th Street, Suite 101
Richmond, VA 23219
Fax: (804) 371–0194
Dear Secretary Rodrigues:
We write to express serious concerns about certain information relating to student voting recently added to the Virginia State Board of Elections website and to request that you revise that information as soon as possible to avoid deterring eligible voting-age students from registering and voting in Virginia.
Specifically, we are concerned about a new “Voting Residency Questionnaire” on the page of your website entitled “Registration and Voting Information for College Students.” While we appreciate and welcome all efforts to provide students with accurate information regarding their voting rights, and while the questionnaire appears to be intended to help student applicants for voter registration determine their place of legal residence, we believe that the questionnaire actually may confuse, mislead, and intimidate student voters, for the following reasons.
First, the questionnaire asks students a litany of personal questions, the type and quantity of which may intimidate students and dissuade them from registering. The questionnaire does not explain the significance of any of the questions, nor does it indicate the repercussions of any particular answer. While the instructions on the questionnaire state that students do not have to submit a completed questionnaire to election officials, students reading the questionnaire might expect to be questioned on these issues or to suffer negative repercussions on matters completely unrelated to and unaffected by their decision to register and to vote in Virginia.
Second and perhaps more importantly, the questionnaire asks students about factors that are completely irrelevant to determining voting residency under Va. Code An. § 24.2–101. For example, the questionnaire asks whether the applicant is “currently enrolled in an institution of higher learning” and, if so, whether he or she pays out-of-state tuition. As you know, the amount a student pays for tuition has no bearing on residency for voting purposes, nor does a student’s enrollment status. The questionnaire also asks whether the applicant is classified as a dependent on another individual’s tax return. As you know, a student’s tax dependent status has no bearing on her ability to establish residency for voting purposes, and thus the question itself is misleading. In addition to potentially misleading students about voting residency requirements, these questions may mislead students about the potential consequences of registering to vote on tax or tuition-related matters. In virtually all cases, registering to vote has no impact on such matters.
In light of these problems, we recommend that you either modify the questionnaire or remove it from your website entirely. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Jennifer S. Rosenberg, Fellow
Wendy R. Weiser, Deputy Director, Democracy Program