For Immediate Release
May 26, 2004
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.”