Fair warning, or voter suppression?

Brent Finnegan -- September 3rd, 2008

On August 15th, I started hearing reports that the Harrisonburg Registrar’s Office was indirectly discouraging new voters — particularly college students — from registering to vote in the city. The allegations were that the registrar was warning younger registrants that registering in their college town could possibly have a negative impact on their scholarships and tax status.

Now I read in newrivervalley.com and Inside Higher Ed that this “warning” was being given to Virginia Tech students in Montgomery County.

A Montgomery County official’s attempt to outline state elections law for thousands of Virginia Tech students this week prompted a swift reaction from Barack Obama campaign officials, who worried the statement could have a “chilling effect” on a massive registration effort now under way.

Montgomery County Registrar Randy Wertz said he wrote the news release, distributed through the county’s Web site, amid concerns that the hundreds of Tech students registering to vote using their Blacksburg addresses would essentially change their permanent address. That, he wrote, could affect students’ scholarships or tax filings and would obligate them to change car registrations and their driver’s license to their permanent address.

But Obama campaign officials said they had never heard of students’ dependency status on their parents’ tax forms affected by their voter registration and added that other laws the release cited are rarely enforced or subject to interpretation. Wertz issued a second statement two days later, saying the county cannot give out tax advice.

Selected text from that memo is included in the Inside Higher Ed article. The implication is that the registrar was trying to discourage students from registering there, because they were likely to vote for Obama, and skew the region more blue.

Although the Voting Rights Act is pretty clear about giving different treatment to different groups of registrants, this “free legal advice” seems to be a matter of interpretation among Virginia registrars. The registrar in Charlottesville doesn’t feel the need:

Charlottesville Registrar Sheri Iachetta said she faces the same issues with University of Virginia students as registrars in Radford and Montgomery County. But the question of whether students can consider addresses at college permanent is one she said she leaves up to the voter.

“I’m not going to question anyone. They have to sign under penalty of perjury that the information they gave me was correct,” Iachetta said. “They’re 18 years of age and they’re away from home, and they can make their own decision.”

Debbie Logan took over the position of Harrisonburg Registrar in 2006. Logan said that the Harrisonburg office was informing students that registering locally could possibly affect certain scholarships, but that they’ve stopped as of last week. According to her, she wanted to avoid angry phone calls from parents regarding the loss of their child’s scholarship. She said that what they were doing was previously okay with the SBE, but that they were told last week by the SBE to stop.

102 Responses to “Fair warning, or voter suppression?”

  1. Yoda says:

    Briggman wrote:
    “JMU students and their skulls full of mush most likely would not cast a vote for Republican candidates so it’s obviously not in the local party’s best interest for JMU students to vote.”
    So what I’m hearing is this, and it’s something we’ve known all along….only smart, college educated people vote progressive while the high school drop outs, and those who barely graduated, are the republican base. You’re not shedding light on anything that we don’t already know….

  2. Josh says:

    Letter in the Collegiate Times, VaTech’s student newspaper:

    We have the right to vote where we want

  3. Josh says:

    See also:

    Voter Registration by Students Raises Cloud of Consequences

  4. seth says:

    good links josh.

    as to yoda, it’s that kind of thinking that fires up the rednecks in the party because you called them rednecks as well as the intellectuals becasue, well, you called them rednecks. sure fire way to get everybody out to vote.

    not very politically savvy (which has been a problem in the democratic party for awhile now).

    additionally, i’d be interested to see statistics on which party has more registered high school dropouts. i don’t necessarily find it relevant to anything, but i think it might put the lie to your close minded thinking.

    you guys spent two election cycles trying to win on ‘the republican candidate is dumb’ platform. didn’t work out so well. so do you really believe calling the whole of the republican base ‘high school dropouts’ and ‘those who barely graduated’ is likely to be a succesful tactic? i think you can probably understand why i’m led to question your intelligence here.

    grow up. get smart. i’d like to see ya’ll win this one.

  5. JGFitzgerald says:

    1. This link, http://www.sbe.virginia.gov/cms/Voter_Information/Registering_to_Vote/College_Student.html, has been updated to eliminate erroneous information.

    2. Yoda didn’t use the word “redneck”; he doesn’t, to the best of my knowledge, represent the Democratic party; and while the GOP candidate was, indeed, dumb in 2000 and 2004, that was not the platform of the Democratic Party. The generalizations in reference to Yoda’s post are straw man arguments.

  6. seth says:

    as always joe, you’re correct.
    i should have quoted yoda as saying ‘only smart, college educated people vote progressive’ and ‘the high school drop outs, and those who barely graduated, are the republican base.’ i overstated yoda’s position because it wasn’t evident from the post that he/she realized what a ridiculous statement they made.

    while yoda may not ‘represent’ the democratic party in any formal capacity, this kind of thinking is indicative of the absurd stereotypes held by folks who are essentially sheep on both sides of the aisle. i don’t believe that i’ve constructed a strawman as all i’ve done is ask people to realize what a futile strategy trying to convince people that republicans are stupid has been and will continue to be.

    if i’m not mistaken, (and i realize that i’m not the perpetual compass of exactitude, so correct me if i am) the strawman was constructed in response to senor briggman’s post.

    in case you didn’t catch it, my point (which i believe to be legitimate) is that telling people their party is composed of uneducated idiots won’t win hearts or minds, let alone votes. while yoda may not be a spokesperson for the party, people see that kind of thing and it can make a difference. ya’ll are going to need some republicans to carry this thing. probably better to try to appeal to them on common ground rather that throw out outrageous insults, but that’s just like, my opinion man.

    (also i think it’s sweet the way you stick up for the progressive, college educated, smart people on your team (even if they’re not so much).

  7. Yoda says:

    I obviously touched an unintended nerve and for that I humbly apologize. To be honest, my comment was meant as “an elbow in the rib” of Dave Briggman. As we all know he has a profound lack of humor and a complete inability to tolerate people whao are able to use his own worlds against him. It wasn’t even an attack on Dave, just a subtle (perhaps not so subtle) comment in jest…perhaps I should have used the smiley face, but personally I’m not a big fan of that novelty.

    As an aside, I do believe that the “intelligence” of the progressive party contributed substantially in the failed results of the last 2 elections. While both parties understand the imporatance of getting their base out to vote, the republicans are typically much more successful at doing so. The are quite able to energize their base with basal fear tactics, talks of gun control, abortion and talk of terrorists showing up at their door. Simple but effective.

    The dilemma for the educated voter base is that we intellectualize the issues. Quite simply, gun control is not as an emotional issue to us as it is to the NRA crowd. I want to discuss relevant issues like debt reduction, issues that affect my children, viable energy programs, sustainable food sources, etc. The fear of losing our right to own a bazooka, or the idea that Mexicans are crossing the border right now to take over my world, just doesn’t work on us. We just don’t get as worked up with that mob mentality as does the republicans. Its a curse of intellectual apathy and it cost us the last 2 elections. The progressive party needs to figure this out. This isn’t arrogance, its just the way it is. Again I’m sorry for coming off more antagonistic than I intended.


  8. Barnabas says:

    (Unless your real name that is, then stop using it you must. Disgrace the name, you do.)
    So I vote republican because I’m emotional and don’t think? Or is it my republican tendencies that automatically qualify me as unintelligent?

  9. seth says:

    right on, i appreciate that. i’d also like to see relevant issues be on the forefront. unfortunately when the government will take away your right to own a gun or abort a baby (never and never) seem to be fearsome questions to people. both sides play the game. both sides have folks who are dumb enough to buy into it.

    it’s sad and perhaps one day it will be different. doesn’t look like that will be today.

  10. Yoda says:

    Comment from Barnabas
    Time: September 10, 2008, 8:41 am

    (Unless your real name that is, then stop using it you must. Disgrace the name, you do.)
    So I vote republican because I’m emotional and don’t think? Or is it my republican tendencies that automatically qualify me as unintelligent?
    Disgrace the name, I do not. Wise and observant is wise and observant, whether you agree or not. As one who has traveled the world, the one very weak trait of Americans, that most other countries don’t exhibit, is their pathetic inability to accept the truth unless its complimentary. Talk about insecure and shallow.

    Most people would argue that there are two types of republicans. Wall Street and Wal-Mart. Although I whole-heartedly agree, I would take it one step further in trying to understand what links the two diametrically opposed groups.

    I’ve found in my experience that it is insecurity and fear of change. The Wal-Mart crowd are afraid of change because they are not smart enough to see the big picture, and because they believe in the Christian Myth (and therefore its all “God’s plan”-which ultimately is the GREAT COP OUT).

    The Wall Street republicans share similar traits but ultimately they are afraid of change to the status quo. They know that this economy, tax structure and power elitism ifavots them greatly. They don’t want to share any of it and they know that they are in the extreme minority (less than 2%). They also know that if the American Citizenry were united recognizing it then they would be toppled as is supposed to happen in a Democracy. So what do they do to build their warrior base? They pander to the most easily manipulated, niave and less likely to challenge authority because their fear and lack of education. The Wal-Mart crew.

    The power elite and Wall Street republicans know that “united we stand, divied we fall.” So they keep us divided. That’s why EVERY TIME they are behind in the polls, or fear that America might be uniting in a movement that actually BENEFITS its middle-class, or fear an erosion in they mob control, they break out the divisive issues that rally the WalMart base….abortion, gun control & most recently, terrorism and immigration.

    Don’t you get it?? YOU ARE BEING PLAYED BECAUSE YOU PEOPLE ARE SCARED OF EVERYTHING!! They make you scared of immigrants, they have you believing that AL Quaeda will show up on your doorstep, you’re afraid of global warming, of burgulars, and pot smokers, alternative fuel sources, change, homosexuals, and people who don’t believe in your version of christianity.

    How can you live being scared of everything? No wonder prescriptions for anti-depressants has seen a 300% increase over the past 10 years, and why studies show that American’s feel “very stressed” and unhappy.

    One of the many reasons why the south is percieved world wide as a bunch of backward yahoos is exactly the reasons listed above.

  11. Barnabas says:

    I have to respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree with your point of view.

  12. Christa says:

    Every blog Yoda visits thinks he’s… well… I’ll be nice today and not say. I’m not quite sure why he blogs in the South if he thinks we are such country bumkins and yahoos. Seriously dude. Get a grip.

  13. Emmy says:

    While I don’t agree with Yoda’s delivery, there are a few things I agree with him on. One of those is fear. Voting has become largely about fear. The ads, the rumors, the smear campaigns are all designed to make us afraid of the other guy. I’ve heard some of the most insane things come out of people’s mouths recently. I am a worrier, but I’ve been amazed at some of the things people think will happen when either of these men get elected. It would be funny, until you realize they believe it.

  14. seth says:

    the dems need the south. they know that. that’s a big part of why their candidate is who it is. sorry to be blunt, but ya’ll have to get past this view of the south as ‘backwards yahoos’ (perhaps it will help when va is the only state in the union to have voted for the first black governor and the first black president).

    second, i agree that politicians frequently traffic in fear. but again, to claim that it’s isolated to one side of the aisle is crazy. last week (after palin’s nomination) obama started running ads in seven states telling women that mccain would essentially make abortion illegal. intelligent people on your side don’t really believe that, but they realize its utility and are obviously just as willing as the other side to exploit it.

    it’s not about good guys and bad guys or smart and stupid. it’s about what’s best for our country. trying to claim that the dems are somehow above using scare tactics makes you look either dumb or else completely incapable of seeing outside of your bias (or seeing what goes on everyday).

  15. Emmy says:

    I agree Seth, it is on both sides of the aisle. I think that perhaps Democrats in the area feel it more strongly because we’re the minority, but it happens on both sides and its equally disturbing.

  16. Bryan says:

    it seems that yoda has overlooked a very important constituency in this election season. the bloc that i’m referring to is, of course, the much coveted “get off my lawn” vote.

    the get off my lawner (GOML) is neither republican nor democrat and does not care what you choose to do as long as it doesn’t affect him (not to be confused with the mysterious libertarian. libertarians, as i understand it, want us all to go buck-wild and that’s not good for anyone).

    my problem with GOML’s is that they (insert ridiculous generalization about behavior and/or background here) and that they don’t seem to vote based on convictions, socio-economic background, or general philosophy. they aren’t concerned with the issues that go beyond their own world (or lawn).

    me, on the other hand, i’m a thinker. i’ve got the life experience to know that certain issues should be considered beyond the terms that may have a direct impact on me. i believe that:

    abortion is probably wrong because i’m not a woman.

    religious freedom is probably okay because i’m not religious.

    campaign finance reform is probably a good thing, because i’m broke.

    i’m still on the fence with the war one because i’m not a soldier, but i am an oil consuming imperialist.

    all i’m saying is that life is filled with complicated decisions and it’s important to take the opinions of others into account. everyone should try to be a little more open-minded, like me.

  17. Bryan says:

    that first point was meant to read “abortion is probably OKAY because i’m not a woman”

    not that there’s much point in correcting such a thing, but i’d hate for anyone to think that diatribe was inconsistent in any way.

  18. JGFitzgerald says:

    “mccain would essentially make abortion illegal. intelligent people on your side don’t really believe that”

    Uh, actually some of us do. One of McCain’s campaign themes is appointing SCOTUS justices who’ll overturn Roe v. Wade, and he’s said he’s for a constitutional amendment to ban abortions. (If you mean we shouldn’t necessarily believe it just because McCain said it, we might have a starting point.) If the radio ads about Roe v. Wade play on a fear, it is a real and justifiable fear, based on McCain’s statements.

    The Pubs on the other hand, just for example, are trying to create a false fear, based on a lie, that kindergarten students will be forced to take explicit sex ed. One side is lying. The other is not. Trying to create a false equality of blame is the kind of “non-partisan” nonsense that, like similar pretenses, favors the bully.

    John McCain has essentially declared that he’s willing to sell his vaunted ethics and honor to the highest bidder to get to the White House. That’s not a fear — that’s his own implicit declaration.

  19. seth says:

    as always….

    (i do agree with you to an extent. you’ve got to get over believing you guys are the good guys though)

  20. seth says:

    joe, i will bet you and any other takers $100 a piece that roe won’t be overturned in the next ten years (and i’ll again recommend that ya’ll shy away from making abortion an issue as it’s traditionally been a rather unsuccessful strategy).

  21. JGFitzgerald says:

    Bet in one hand, Seth.

  22. Brian M says:


    You should investigate Libertarianism a little more if you think we want everyone to go “buck-wild”.

    As part of the National Libertarian party platform states, “we defend each person’s right to engage in any activity that is peaceful and honest, and welcome the diversity that freedom brings. The world we seek to build is one where individuals are free to follow their own dreams in their own ways, without interference from government or any authoritarian power.”

    This can hardly be confused with going “buck-wild”. Perhaps it could be stated that Libertarians want the government out of our bedrooms, out of our homes, out of our religions, and out of our personal lives all together.

    Just because I believe there should be no seat belt laws does not mean I wouldn’t always wear one. I simply don’t believe that the government has the right to try to “protect” me from myself. I’ll get along just fine without government as my great protector.

  23. seth says:

    so we’re on?

  24. JGFitzgerald says:

    Who’s on what? Facts are not facts because they are bet upon, or shouted loudly, or because God whispers them in your ear. They just are. If you want to bet that the fundamentalists and extremists of the GOP right are morally equivalent to the Dems, then place your wager at the voting booth. As to the usual adolescent nostrum that betting is “putting your money where your mouth is,” it’s not. It’s playing games. Putting your money where your heart and mind are involves giving time, energy and money to the political process. Those who think they are too good for politics, or that commenting on a blog is contributing to the political process, should keep one hand free for typing. We know what they’re doing with the other, and that both hands are doing the same thing. That is a true moral equivalency.

    The expression is, “[Verb] in one hand and [spit] in the other. See which one fills up the quickest.”

  25. Barnabas says:

    I don’t believe roe will be turned over either.
    There are many people who feel that voting republican is one step closer to saving babies. This may or may not be true, but it does bring people to the poles.

  26. Bryan says:

    Brian M,

    just having a laugh, friend. i am familiar with the libertarian platform.

    also, there is not actually a group known as the “get off my lawners”.

  27. Yoda says:

    When you describe the “get off my lawner” you’re describing the selfish and self-absorbed who only care about issues that effect them. Again, that is a NEOCON trait. They don’t care about the environment because they aren’t polar bears or able to see the ice caps. They don’t care about sustainable food crops and growth, or child labor, because they have a super Wal-Mart and don’t actuall have a child working in a sweat shop in China. They hate Federal Assistance, national healthcare and taxes because, well, those programs help others (ironically these people would be screaming the loudest if they lost their disability or medicare check, go figure).

    When you couple thet narrow-minded selfishness with fear tactics and lies/distractions than you get the core of the republican/rove battleplan. Sad really.

    As an aside, you don’t have to hold back Christa, unlike republican thin-skinned folks I can take it. To borrow a phrase from from the grand pubah of ignorant yahoos, the man who went AWOL in the military and now currently sits in the Oval Office……….”Bring it on.” (Just in case you couldn’t figure out, I was referring to GWB).

  28. Bryan says:

    oh, it’s been brought.

    a few posts up.

    and by it, i mean my seamless parody of you.

  29. Yoda says:

    Comment from Bryan
    Time: September 12, 2008, 4:53 pm

    oh, it’s been brought.

    a few posts up.

    and by it, i mean my seamless parody of you.
    Seamless maybe, parady no. Since my comment was a reply to Christa’s earlier post, and you chose to respond, does that mean that you are Christa blogging as Bryan?

  30. seth says:

    did you call me a wanker? i’m not sure but i think you did. i’d expect more from one of the resident bloggers. anyway….

    i’m involved, don’t worry about that. let’s talk in ten years.

  31. seth says:

    (and i’m not much of a gambler. i generally only bet on sure things. thanks for illustrating my point).

  32. Christa says:

    Yoda, I don’t play that game. If I have something to say to you, I don’t need to be someone else. That’s a a game you Northerners play. I’m curious to know why you are blogging on Harrisonburg VA blogs, when you are up North and think we are all such yahoos. Republitarian is near Harrisonburg also, in case you didn’t know.

    Bring it on Yoda? Bring what on? You are whack dude.

  33. Yoda says:

    With all due respect I’m not sure what “game” you’re talking about. You are the one who made the comment, and I quote, “Every blog Yoda visits thinks he’s… well… I’ll be nice today and not say……..Seriously dude. get a grip.” Is that not confrontational on your part? If the “game” that you’re talking about is telling the truth without a bunch of superficial platitudes then yes, I guess it is what we do.

    When I lived in the South one of the many disgusting things that I observed is how comfortably these supposed christians would look you in the eye and lie like crazy. You rationalize that behavior by saying your “just being polite,” but a lie is a lie and platitudes are pathetic and condescending. I’m sorry if you folks don’t like to hear differing opinion. If you want “group think” where everyone sites around saying ditto and singing kumbyah, then you need not blog and find some insecure, conservative tea party for support.

  34. Yoda says:

    “Republitarian is near Harrisonburg also, in case you didn’t know. ”
    After what I”ve read over the past few weeks, this definately does not come as as shocker. was this revelation meant to incriminate him/her? If so Bravo, nicely done!!

  35. Christa says:

    Yoda, the game I was refering to is you accusing me of being Bryan. ” Seamless maybe, parady no. Since my comment was a reply to Christa’s earlier post, and you chose to respond, does that mean that you are Christa blogging as Bryan?”
    You know Yoda, I think you are pretty intelligent and I have not disagreed with some of your posts. It’s your presentation. Your attacks on how stupid people from the south are. Just make your point Yoda and leave all your gutless name calling in the back seat. Be civilized.

  36. Christa says:

    And one more thing. You commented on the other blog that I used to be normal…what happened to me, etc. I have no idea what you are talking about. Have you blogged under another name, because your IP’s are all different. Would kinda be nice to know who I’m fighting with sometimes. I seriously don’t post a huge amount unless I’m bored or just winding down in the evening.

  37. Christa says:

    And copying and pasting EVERY thing I say is NOT necessary. Nobody is talking but you and I.

  38. Yoda says:

    Let me address your posts in reverse. 1) Copying and pasting your posts is standard operating procedure on national blogs, it is a courtesy to those bloggers who are new to the thread and perhaps need to be “caught up.” It also allows some senses to be made of blogs where the input is fast, furious or convaluted. If you take offense to this type of protocol and blogging behavior than that’s your problem and I feel no need to apologize.

    2) I started visiting this site several weeks ago after learning that your Governor, Tim Kaine, was on Obama’s short list. I wanted to find out who Gov. Kaine was and well, one internet thing led to another, and I found hburgnews. I was intrigued because I have a cousin who lives in the north part of VA and I never really considered it to be such a conservative, redneck state, especially with dem. gov. But then I found out that you people felt a need to have a marriage amendment? And a change to your constitution to protect huntin’ as a “right?’

    Wow. Right then and there I realized how niave at the time I was toward VA. The rest, as they say, is history. Apparently you’ve been embarassing this country since the Civil War!!!

    As for my IP address, that comment is revealing and exactly why I feel a need to hide it? How do you have access to that info? More importantly, why did you feel the need to access it? To dig dirt? Do harm? Be vindictive? I know that you people hate differing opinions and will do anything to belittle, marginalize those opinions. Its a republican thing. I understand it and unfortunately feel a need to protect myself. You people can be dangerous all hopped up on moonshine………

    3) Sorry, I see no point in responding…

  39. Yoda says:

    Christ(a)?, Bry, Bry, anybody? Did I really shut you down? Like the Civil War, the NORTH won.

  40. Christa says:

    Trully Yoda, you are not worth my effort.

  41. Brian M says:

    Yoda. Calm down. Don’t be so hateful. You are attacking people with reckless abandon. And everyone in Virginia doesn’t support a marriage amendment. We don’t all drink moonshine.


  42. seth says:

    anyone else think you might be able to form a pretty good argument to say that part of the reason this country is so f’d up is because the north won the civil war?

    actually, i suppose that would be impossible seeing as how they were the good guys. just like the dems are now. just like we are in iraq.

    point being, bringing up who won one of the most misunderstood wars in our history makes you look as ignorant as the south will rise again crowd.

  43. Thanh says:

    Here is information from JMU’s efforts to get students to vote: http://www.jmu.edu/jmuweb/students/news/students10120.shtml

  44. Thanh says:

    September 20 DNR article on student voting and absentee ballots: http://www.dnronline.com/news_details.php?AID=31605&CHID=1

  45. finnegan says:

    There’s a relevant editorial in today’s Hampton Roads Pilot:

    …In recent weeks, confusion over voter registration requirements for college students has generated consternation in Hampton Roads, Southwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.

    In some instances, voter registrars may be deliberately discouraging students from registering to avoid the hassles associated with such a transient population. But let’s assume for a minute that registrars chose their occupations because they are fond of democracy.

    A common theme among the scattered controversies is the vague standards in Virginia law for determining domicile. State law deliberately allows registrars significant discretion in making those decisions. Some discretion is needed to address special cases. However, many registrars and officials at the Board of Elections believe more clarity is needed, and there is growing evidence that they are correct…

  46. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    In related news, Liberty University is canceling classes on election day and shuttling students to the polls in hopes of becoming “the university that elected a president”. I wondered how this part of the article related to the discussion here:

    “Liberty students have never been permitted to register locally in the past. The recent change in election law is giving Liberty University the chance to make history,” Falwell stated in an e-mail addressed to faculty and staff. “Liberty University’s 11,000 students and 4,000 faculty and staff could cause Liberty to become known as the university that elected a president!”

    Since the announcement of the registration campaign, students have been offered voter registration forms by resident advisers during residence hall meetings and by professors during class. Jonathan Woods, a junior at Liberty and resident adviser, said he and fellow RAs were instructed to educate their residents about registering to vote during a regular RA meeting.

    “That night, in our hall meetings, we had to explain that it’s a good and unique opportunity,” Woods said, “because not too long ago they [out-of-state students] weren’t able to register in Virginia.”

    Liberty sophomore Zach Rowe said Falwell has been pressuring students not only to vote, but also to register to vote in Virginia.

  47. Dave Briggman says:

    Private school…they can do about what they want to.

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