rejection stories

Brent Finnegan -- October 30th, 2008

I just came across this video of JMU student Matthew Benoit telling the story of how and why his voter registration form was rejected by the Harrisonburg registrar’s office. This is another example of a young voter being disenfranchised in the city.

There’s a story in today’s DNR about the rejection of Charity Amison’s registration. Joe Fitzgerald had written about Charity’s case in an email circulated last week. Here’s an edited portion of Joe’s story:

Jennie [Amison]’s daughter, Charity, wanted to vote. She went to the Campaign for Change, the Obama headquarters in Harrisonburg, and she filled out a form. She did it right. She knows her Social Security number and her birthday and there’s not that much else to fill out. But somehow the form was altered after she gave it to the campaign. Debbie said the Obama campaign must have done it. Electoral Board chairman John Simmers was dismissive and rude when Jennie asked him about it at a public meeting. But later they invited the Amisons down to the Registrar’s Office, where Debbie had lots of Republicans working, and, reportedly, members of her family. […] They explained nicely why Charity’s form had been rejected, and Charity said she didn’t change it, and they said that’s too bad, dear. Charity, with Jennie’s guidance, appealed the decision to the Circuit Court.

Jennie and Charity had to drive to Winchester for the case to be heard […] Charity said she’d filled the form out right. She’d turned it in just like she was supposed to. And the judge had to wonder if the Campaign for Change had somebody alter it for some reason, and whether to believe this nineteen-year-old girl who maybe hadn’t filled in a lot of forms before, or to believe the Harrisonburg City Registrar.

The judge looked down from his bench at Jennie, scowling back at him, her face as black and hard as coal. He looked down at Debbie, sweetness and light and cotton-candy blonde hair. He ruled for Debbie. Jennie’s daughter cried all the way home.

Other citizens in the area — young or old, black or white, Democrat or Republican — whose registrations were rejected are welcome to share their stories here or email us.

26 Responses to “rejection stories”

  1. Renee says:

    OMG! At JMU the dorm name is not part of the mailing address, and I’m sure many people asked to fill out their “home address” would put their box number, since that is where they receive mail at their home, where they live, at the school. It is not an alternate address like a normal post office box would be.

    We have to do something about this.

    Brent, great idea to collect the stories.

  2. linz says:

    Obviously there have been forms that shouldn’t have been rejected in the first place, but what’s starting to get to me even more is the idea that these judges are taking one’s right to vote so LIGHTLY that they are denying some pretty clear-cut, easily explainable cases. For example, if someone doesn’t list a dorm room and they can show up to their appeal proving that they do live in Harrisonburg, then the issue of the form should be ancient history. What matters is that they registered in time and when there was a question, they could prove their residency, thereby they should be able to vote! What do we gain by disenfranchising people and putting them off until the next election? I mean, these are fundamental rights people! Judges should not be so quick to deny rights for which so many have fought so hard and that they themselves would certainly not want taken away. And where is the break in the system that this is all up to one person who may or may not have partisan bias? Take it as rhetorical if you want. I’m just venting because this whole thing reeks of voter suppression and possibly even document tampering.

  3. Renee says:

    I wonder if the voters weren’t “kids” if the judges would take it more seriously. This is absolutely wrong. I’m calling the CNN hotline to report it, and if anyone knows of any other ways to report these problems, let me know.

    CNN’s Voter Hotline: 1-877-462-6608

  4. Renee says:

    CNN recorded the complaint, then forwarded me to the VA Board of Elections to report it again, which can also be reached at 804-864-8901.

  5. Chris Edwards says:

    The Devil is in the details. Early this Fall when I volunteered at the Dem office on 42, a woman who had recently moved to Hburg from out of state came in and filled out a registration form. When my husband (Robin McNallie) took her form to the city registrar’s office, the woman at the desk there seemed unfamiliar with the process, and confused. She checked with someone in the back before taking the form. One thing about the form was unclear to us: The second page contained two items: the receipt for the voter at the top (where it was stapled to the first page, which the voter had filled out), and below that (and upside down), a form marked “For Office Use.” The registrar’s office took only the first page of the form, and an official there (who seemed somewhat more familiar with the job than the first one) said they did not need the second page; that we should just return the receipt to the voter and cut off and discard the For Office Use form, which had been printed unnecessarily. So we did that. Then I heard that other Democrats doing voter registration had been told to give that For Office Use form to the registrar’s office! I worry now as to whether that new applicant will be allowed to vote. What should have been a simple process turned into a hassle.

  6. H'burger Abroad says:

    I don’t want to unfairly accuse the registrar’s office of incompetence (or something worse) but can they be trusted with our voter registrations and ballots?

    I air-mailed my absentee ballot from abroad to H’burg three weeks ago and I check the VA Board of Elections website daily to see its status but it still hasn’t been received. I know that things get lost in the mail but these stories make me wonder what else could have happened.

    The JMU student’s story is unbelievable. Can you really be ineligible to vote because you have a PO box?

  7. Drew Richard says:

    And it’s definitely not for lack of effort, the kid did everything he could. This is ridiculous. Talk about incompetence in the registrar’s office, either that or they have a bone to pick with students…either way these people are being cheated out of their right to vote!

  8. linz says:

    “I don’t want to unfairly accuse the registrar’s office of incompetence (or something worse) but can they be trusted with our voter registrations and ballots?”

    I’ve been wondering the same thing.

  9. Deb SF says:

    I don’t think anyone has to worry about the actual counting of the ballots.

    In the interest of transparency: at each precinct, there’s a Repub and a Dem chief election judge (now called Chief Election officer or some such thing). The rest of the election officers in each precinct are roughly balanced between Dem and Rep. I’m Dem co-chief at Stone Spring, and Joe is co-cheif at Keister. For at least for the last 2 elections, here’s the SS process: my Repub co-chief and I close out the machines together. Next, either she or I call in the numbers to the registrars office. I then do the draft statement of results, she checks my arithmetic against the voting machine tapes and goes over my work. Then I write out the copies of the real statement of results, and every election official at the precinct signs off on it (that’s 16 people this time around at Stone Spring). No results are official until the canvass at 9AM the following morning.

    Every precinct does some variation of this routine, depending on who is most comfortable with the arithmetic and the forms. Multiple copies of the machine results are printed and attached to each statement of results. I really think we can be pretty confident about that part of the process.

    Registration, of course, is another story.

  10. Draegn88 says:

    So we have Joe’s commentary which makes the judge out as being a racist. Typical liberal dogma, if you don’t get your way, cry racism. Of course he also blames the registars office because a few republicans were working there. Joe did you ever bother considering that the “change” might have been made in the Obama office where the form was turned in?

    As for not listing the dorm name on the form, how many students failed to do this? How many did write their dorm name down? It seems to me that these bright, intelligent university students should have asked questions and/or followed directions better. Does JMU no longer have an office to help students register to vote?

  11. Bubby says:

    “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is Enemy Action.”
    — Auric Goldfinger

  12. Renee says:

    As for not listing the dorm name on the form, how many students failed to do this? How many did write their dorm name down?

    I’d assume a lot of students registered with the normal “get out the vote” groups on campus with clipboards. Having been a JMU student, I wouldn’t have put my dorm name as part of my address unless explicitly instructed to do so, because at JMU, the mail is delivered to a central location, not to the dorms like at some other schools. The actual “home address” of an on-campus student IS a PO box at the school’s post office.

    Unless there are any off-campus students that can request a PO box at that post office (which I’m pretty sure there aren’t) I think a judge needs to declare that all 22807 registrations be reviewed, and those filled out properly, but with PO Box addresses, should be accepted. Worst case scenario, they should have volunteers call the students and write down their Dorm name on the form. (Though I’m not sure what field it would be added to, because it’s not part of the address.)

  13. Renee says:

    I meant to put the questions above in quotes and say @Draegn88.

  14. Del says:

    Here’s a story on college voters from Roanoke. I apologize if someone else already linked.

  15. Renee says:

    Thanks for the link, Del.

  16. Renee says:

    Anyone that’s been rejected can email about their registration issues.

    Also, I believe that anyone that was possibly unfairly rejected could go vote with a provisional ballot anyways, until this whole “situation” is figured out:

    Citizens have the right “To vote a Provisional Ballot if your status as a qualified voter is in question, and to be present when the Electoral Board meets to determine if your ballot will be counted. ”

  17. ctb says:

    I was in the court room for all of the hearings on the voter registration appeals. ALL of the persons that were there screwed up the registration they filled out. They didn’t follow directions when filling out there registration and so the votor registrar denied there registrations as they are required to do by law. The judge had to apply the law and so he had no other choice but to side with the registrar. And it was not just JMU kids or just democrates that were denied. There was a man who looked like he was at least 65-70 and at least two people who said they were republicans. IF all of these people would have just went to the voter registrars office and registered to vote and not with some 3rd party group or the DMV they wouldn’t have this problem.

  18. Renee says:

    ctb – you act like it’s all the people’s fault that were filling out the form.

    Like I said above, the JMU students didn’t fill out their address “wrong” – the dorm name is not part of the “home address” there. If I were filling the form out with my JMU address when I lived on campus, I wouldn’t have put my dorm name, either.

    Also, why would a person assume the DMV wouldn’t know the proper information when they are an “official” government office?

    What ever happened to the “spirit of the law” and why weren’t these people allowed to vote once simple changes were made on their forms, like the addition of a dorm name? They aren’t ineligible to vote, they are citizens, they just happened to register with someone who wasn’t fully versed on the “rules” beyond what was apparent from the form. I read the instructions on the form, and it says “Residence (Permanent) Home Address”, which at JMU IS a box number. There are no further instructions for special cases such as dorms.

    I’m really upset about how these people were disenfranchised (and yes, in both parties), but I won’t go on and on. I just think it’s unfair to pin all of the blame on the registrants, when they filled out the form as it instructs, and did what I think any “normal” person would do. It’s not like these people are stupid.

  19. Draegn88 says:

    Renee, the judge ruled that a P.O. Box is not a permanent address because one does not sleep inside a P.O. Box.

    Only a few students failed to put down their dormatory.

    If anyone is to blame it should be the “get out the vote” groups that prowl campus encouraging people to register without providing proper instructions.

  20. Renee says:

    Draegn88 – the “get out the vote” groups can’t be expected to give instructions beyond what is on the form. I don’t know how they even would’ve known the dorm name is required.

    And the judge was wrong. You can’t sleep in a PO Box, but you can sleep in a dorm room which receives mail only by PO Box. It’s not an “alternative” address. If homeless person can register by describing where they stay, then a student should be able to register using the address where they live. If the students showed proof that they lived on campus, and JMU could verify that the box at 800 S Main St. is the proper mailing address for on-campus residents, they should have been able to register using the address at which they receive dorm mail.

    Otherwise, the form should have an instruction “If you enter a PO Box as an address and you have no ‘residential’ address, describe where you live” and students could put their dorm name there.

  21. Renee says:

    “Only a few students failed to put down their dormatory. ”

    We don’t yet know how many students were rejected for not writing down their dorm name. I have since heard of 2 “friends of friends” that were rejected for this reason, and I don’t talk to a lot of people that know students on campus, so I’m sure there are many more that were either too embarrassed or unsure of who to go to after being rejected. One of them said they called several places and kept being told there was nothing they could do, so they stopped trying.

  22. Renee says:

    Anyway, it doesn’t matter how few the number was. Even if only 1 student was rejected for this reason, it would be wrong.

    I seriously suspect if they were being this picky on registrations, and if one student organization I heard of got 3000 students registered to vote, that the actual number of applications rejected for this reason is in the hundreds.

  23. JGFitzgerald says:

    In the past, 800 South Main and a PO Box has been enough. The PO Box for mailing, and the 800 S. Main to tell where one lives for purposes of assigning a precinct. The dormitory address was added this year as a suppressing technique. It was intended to severely limit the number of acceptable ID’s, a problem that was solved just before the election when the Electoral Board majority and the Registrar were forced to adopt state law instead of local custom.

  24. Deb SF says:

    On a happier noted, around mid-morning yesterday, the local board of election also adopted the state’s guidance on what ID’s to accept for first time HAVA voters (Help America Vote Act). Students can show a JAC card, a voter card, or their license (if it has a local address on it). Note the *or* in that sentence; until yesterday morning, the JAC card was not going to be considered acceptable photo ID. At that point, life at Stone Spring got a lot easier.

    See you at the polls!

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