SBE Approaching Decision on Voter Residency Rules

Brent Finnegan -- August 6th, 2009

The State Board of Elections will meet in Richmond on Monday to hear the recommendations of the Voter Residency Task Force. The question is; What qualifies a person to vote in local elections, as opposed to voting in their so-called “hometowns?” The issue has great relevance in college towns across the Commonwealth, as noted on hburgnews several times before.

From the SBE release:

The State Board of Elections’ (SBE) Voter Residency Taskforce will meet at 11:00 AM on Monday, August 10, 2009 in House Room 1 of the State Capitol. An advisory task force was appointed by the board to assist in the drafting of regulations on voter residency.

The decision of the taskforce will be submitted to the State Board of Elections for a vote. Pending approval by SBE, the policy will then be submitted to the United States Department of Justice for review … The voter residency taskforce is comprised of representatives from the State Board of Elections, Voter Registrars Association of Virginia, Virginia Electoral Boards Association and from civic groups including the Democratic and Republican parties of Virginia.

H/T Karl

31 Responses to “SBE Approaching Decision on Voter Residency Rules”

  1. J. Tyler Ballance says:

    Don’t just watch this debacle unfold from the sidelines.

    Write to the Task Force and tell them that Virginia residents must be defined as those who actually make their full time home in a Virginia community, and not include transients, migrant workers, illegal aliens or college kids.

  2. Or not.

    Unnaturalized immigrants can’t vote anyway. Please show us where that’s happening. This issue is primarily about where college students vote.

  3. zen says:

    Also what about military?

  4. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    It kind of makes sense that people would vote in the same place where they’re likely to spend most of their time and pay the most taxes over the following years. Why should a college freshman from a Harrisonburg family, who’s living out of the area during the entire term of office for a Council member, have any say in who’s elected here? Why SHOULDN’T they have a stake in the place where they pay sales taxes and rent (which feeds into the property tax system), which are the main sources of local government revenue?

    As far as “transients and migrant workers” (not sure who you have in mind as a migrant worker), where do you think they should be voting? Or would you just prefer they have no vote at all?

  5. Ray says:

    “… have any say in who’s elected here? Why SHOULDN’T they have a stake in the place where they pay sales taxes and rent (which feeds into the property tax system), which are the main sources of local government revenue?”

    Here’s a related question that I’ve never seen addressed but, I think, would fall under the same thinking. Should people who, for instance, own a business in a municipality but reside outside said municipality get to vote in those elections? As it is now the decisions that affect their businesses are made and they have no way to voice their opion on them.

    I realize this would make the voting process pretty difficult. Maybe these votes could be handled soley thru an absentee-like system. There would also have to be consideration given as to what elections the owner could vote in. Obviously the local Council/BOS. But what if the owner lived in a different General Assembly district and/or Congressional district? Or a different state all together?

    I just think with all this talk of making sure students get to vote where they’re attending school (even if it’s only for few months) because they’re paying taxes in the municipality then the business owners (especially local ones) should get a say in how their business tax dollars are spent too, not to mention regulations, etc. that are leveled against them.

  6. Ray, I tend to agree with you. It might be tough to make sure people don’t double-vote for the same elections, but it makes sense that people should be able to vote in those municipalities where they have a legitimate stake. I wonder how it works when people have more than one residence.

  7. Deb SF says:

    Yow. Extending the argument that one should be able to vote in those areas in which one has a legitimate stake… even if we limit it to an economic stake… what about owning a firm, or working for a company that operates all over the county or state? The region? The nation? What about being a large stockholder in a firm that operates mostly on the west cost?

    People often talk about voting with their dollars and voting with their feet; maybe that’s the kind of voting folks who are unhappy with laws outside their home district should be doing, right along with voting at the ballot box.

  8. Bubby Hussein, Hillbilly Sheikh says:

    People have the right to vote, not businesses Ray, and people vote where they live. It a Constitutional right.

    Business owners can and do petition municipalities for consideration – just as Rosetta Stone, our good corporate citizen recently did…and they get a very receptive hearing. On the other hand, the DNR should probably be shown to the door, they have been a constant embarrassment to the City. No need to cede further privilege.

  9. JGFitzgerald says:

    Can you start a small business for … $50,000? Imagine someone who is planning to give half a million to a gubernatorial candidate — yeah, there are such people — who instead decides to found 10 businesses and vote 10 times.

  10. Ray, are you proposing that business owners should get more than one vote?

  11. I don’t think Ray is saying he should be able to vote twice for governor or any other position. I think he’s saying that it makes sense that if he has a business in a locality, and thus contributes substantially to that locality’s tax base, he should be able to help choose local leaders even though his abode is in another locality. “No taxation without representation” and all that. The main argument I can think of against being able to vote for local leaders in more than one locality is to prevent voter fraud of voting twice in the same election – but I think there could be workarounds to prevent that.

    A person can contribute money to candidates not in their locality; they can go campaign for candidates not in their locality; they can lobby politicians not in their locality; are those less influential powers than being among the many voters in a particular election?

  12. I disagree, Jeremy. One person, one vote, one locality. Landowners, business owners, and shareholders don’t deserve extra, special voting privileges. Assuming they’re successful, they probably have money to give to candidates in other districts. That’s plenty of privilege.

    I don’t think you’ve thought through that argument enough. If I’m Bill Gates, I could buy a small business or own property in every voting district in the U.S. How many votes is that? If you don’t cap it at one vote per person, where do you cap it?

  13. You wouldn’t extend that to say you can’t be a part of numerous organizations and vote for their leaders, would you? Why not?

    I think there should be a limit on voting only once in an election of the same type (i.e. President, Senate, House, Governor, and state reps) but that when it comes to local elections the rules make a lot less sense. This flap over where college students should vote helps show that.

    For example, if I had a house in the county but stayed every night with a friend in the city and worked in the city and never left the city, I could vote in the county but not in the city. The question here is what qualifies someone as a “citizen” of a locality? I think it has something to do with the concept of consent of the governed.

  14. Lowell Fulk says:

    Nice discussion, but kinda missing the point regarding voting and business etc… A business owner or otherwise interested business entity doesn’t need to be able to vote in a locality. One vote? Big deal…

    What they do is provide money to the candidates who will dependably support the issue they care about in order to influence, persuade, cajole and scare to death the voters who do reside in the area of interest.

    And following that last point, they can give to political action committees to attack the opponent of their candidate with virtual impunity regarding any accountability regarding truth.

    Denying that one vote of a student or naturalized citizen, in light of the above available influence I have referenced, becomes very important indeed. Because my dear friends, voter suppression is an important, and indeed key, component of purchasing influence…

    If an individual or entity is going to invest a whole pile of money into a campaign for or against something or someone, they want to know that their money is well invested.

    If there are only so many votes possible to win, then the effort must by necessity become one of driving down the potential votes for the opponent. Can you say negative campaign?

    Negative ads are not intended so much to win people to your side so much as to take the wind out of the sails of the opposition and convince them to stay home…

    You maximize your appeal (is the mindset) and then you drive down turnout with negative message about the opponent.

    This is winning elections with 50% plus one…

    This is not about consensus or compromise or working to a solution, this is a mindset based purely and simply upon winning.

    That’s why the right wing noise machine is doing what it is doing… Creating doubt…

    The Republican Party isn’t attempting to contribute to the discussion toward solution because they don’t believe it is necessary to win power. All they believe they need to do is prevent discussion and any attempted compromise, and prevent agreeing on a solution, and thus discourage participation and interest, and they feel they will thereby win…

    Sad thing is, this has worked for them very well in the past.

    The question is, have enough people become engaged enough to care enough to remain involved? Or will they allow themselves to be convinced to simply stay home?… We shall see.

  15. Ray says:

    “Ray, are you proposing that business owners should get more than one vote?”

    Jeremy pretty much covered how I think it should work. Upon further reflection the only thing I’d do different is make the vote be for the business itself, no different from you or me. How the ballot would be filled out would then fall to the owner(s) (be it an individual or a board of directors). Also, the voting would only be on those races that the owner isn’t voting on in his residence district. And I’d be willing to say it’d only be for local elections, not state and federal, as the businesses would most likely have the greater impact there (just like the citizen voter does). This would probably be a turn-off to the big guys like Bill Gates, the Walton family, etc. as they wouldn’t necessarily care about the happenings in a small municipality like a local owner would.

    I just find it disturbing that a bunch of money is taken from businesses via taxes and some have no direct say in how that money is used. And haven’t for decades. At least if the owner resides in the same locality as his business he has a vote to throw in. But for owners that live outside the locality it’s like they’re told “Thanks for the money. Now shut up and stand in that corner over there until we need more money next year.”. That worries me more than whether someone who’ll more than likely be gone in 4 or 5 years physically votes in a building or takes a few minutes to fill out an abscentee ballot and mail it back to their “home” district (for lack of a better term).

  16. Deb SF says:

    I’ve read about multiple vote systems, but they were generally allocated geographically according to where a person lives, not where he/she does business. E.g., for city council, suppose 5 seats are open in an election. You get 5 votes, and can distribute them as you please, giving all five votes to one candidate, or 1 to each, etc.

    Nevile Shute wrote a great book in the 50’s (In the Wet) where he imagines a system where everyone gets one vote, but can earn extra ones, up to 7. Each person can only cast their votes for one candidate. The more you do and accomplish, the more say you have in policymaking in the country.

    In Shute’s book, other votes can be earned for education (including a commission in the armed forces), earning a living overseas for two years, raising two children to the age of 14 without divorcing, being an official of a Christian church, or having a high earned income. The seventh vote is only given at the Queen’s discretion by Royal Charter for heroism.

  17. Renee says:

    I think each person has to use a unique identifier (SSN?) to register in a national database. If they have multiple homes, or a business, or go to school, they have to pick one “real” address (not a PO box) to associate with their unique record in the database. And you can’t change it more than once per year.

    One vote per person in one locality – but you get to pick which of your addresses’ localities you want your vote to count in. The national-level database would prevent you from being able to vote more than once in any election.

  18. Thought this section from the Virginia Declaration of Rights was germane to the discussion:

    “That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people in assembly ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community have the right of suffrage and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for public uses without their own consent or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented, for the public good.”

  19. “You wouldn’t extend that to say you can’t be a part of numerous organizations and vote for their leaders, would you?”

    Jeremy, government and private organizations and clubs are apples and oranges. They’re completely different entities. That’s a bit of a stretch, if not a straw man.

    Ray, votes are for human beings, not LLCs, corporations, or other non-human entities. What you’re describing is tantamount to corporate personhood.

    It’s always interesting to read founding documents with the knowledge that Jefferson, Mason, Madison, and others were slave owners. I’m willing to bet that Mason considered salves among the property he was referring to in the Declaration of Rights. Should a slaveowner have (had) extra votes if his slaves were scattered about in various districts?

    Mason and Madison might have agreed with you that property owners should have votes in more districts, where their financial interests were. After all, these are the same folks who came up with the Electoral College.

    All of this is missing the point, though. The SBE is trying to determine who can vote where, not in how many different districts can one person vote.

  20. David Miller says:

    Brent, luckily that is the point. This discussion about corporate votes is pretty funny considering the current use of corporate dollars to fraudulently misrepresent corporate “grassroots” opposition to health care reform thereby drowning out real debate. Back to the issue at hand, lets hope that the SBE upholds its responsibilities which include helping “transients, migrant workers or college kids” to have equal and full access to the “democratic process”.

  21. cook says:

    As a business owner in Harrisonburg who pays a wheelbarrow load of BPOL tax to the City and lives in the County, it does feel like taxation without representation. So, thank you, Ray, for raising this issue. I certainly feel like I have more “right” to vote for city council than a JMU senior who wanders into the voting booth to vote for President of the United States.

    It feels that way because I have to write a very large check in March with money that otherwise would go to clothe and feed the cook kids.

    The BPOL tax feels particularly outrageous because it is a tax on gross revenue rather than net profit.

    However, if I think of the BPOL as a sales tax (rather than an income tax), I do settle down a bit and try to remember that the tax is being passed onto my clients; they are paying the tax, not me. Once calm, I’m usually OK until March rolls around again.

  22. Republitarian says:

    Whoa Mr. Cook, that sounded a tad on the “Revolutionary side”….you may want to cool your jets. I’m sure there are some here who may turn you into the White House….

    Keep your mouth shut, pay your taxes, and you won’t have any trouble from the “administration”.

  23. JGFitzgerald says:

    I once served on City Council, so I should be allowed to vote twice.

    There were perhaps 5,000 college students voting in Harrisonburg in November who had never voted for a city council member before. There were about 8,000 non-students voting then who had never voted for a council member before. History does not record how many of each group knew going in that there would be a council election on the ballot.

  24. Bill says:

    Let me propose a hypothetical situation, let’s suppose that they, the SBE, determine that college students are not domicile residents and therefore may not vote in the communities they attend school. Does that mean that the student populations of those communities would then be reduced from the total population count, thus reducing state and federal $$$ to those localities that are population based? That would take almost 17000 people away from Harrisonburgs population of nearly 40,000. Reducing the population to only about 23,000 will reduce a lot of federal and state $$$ from the city’s revenues. The city still has to provide a certain level of services to these students whether or not they are permanant domicile residents. (Domicile by my definition is where one eats, sleeps, recreates, and pays taxes most of the year). I see this issue as one of a student choosing where they want to declare a legal, domicile residence. If they wish to stay under the wings of their parent(s) back home- then that’s their domicile- if on the other hand they have left the “nest”- then their domicile is where they choose to call “home”. (IMO) Simply put, vote where you call home. I live in the county, but I own properties in the city, I pay lots of taxes in the city, but because I reside in the county as my domicile residence is located there I can only vote in the county. That’s fair. No one is taking away my right to vote- they are just determining where I can legally vote.

  25. JGFitzgerald says:

    The census is determined differently, and the rule since the 1960s has been that students are counted at school. (A similar federal decision about voting was not as explicit as the one on the census.) Prisoners are also counted where the prison is.

  26. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    “Jeremy, government and private organizations and clubs are apples and oranges. They’re completely different entities. That’s a bit of a stretch, if not a straw man.”

    How are local governments so very different from groups like PTA’s, property owners’ associations, labor unions, etc.? I mean, for me this discussion is academic since there’s no real proposal on the table, but I’m just saying that if someone is going to be substantially governed by and pay taxes to a governing body, they ought to have a say in how it’s run. Limiting people to helping choose leaders for one locality regardless of their circumstances seems antiquated.

  27. Renee says:

    If we had a reliable electronic voting system that could also check people’s IDs and understand their address, a student could vote from anywhere and their personal local ballot brought up on-screen so their vote could still be counted in their home locality.

  28. Business owners are able to contribute to campaigns for City Council and do so. I have not seen much complaining about their not having much voice in how the city runs, or so anywhere else, althougn many may not have liked the outcome of this recent election and so are whining and proposing something never done anywhere in this country. This is just ridiculous.

  29. Deb SF says:

    “How are local governments so very different from groups like PTA’s, property owners’ associations, labor unions, etc.?”

    well, labor unions can’t tax your property, and the PTA can’t put you in jail….

  30. “well, labor unions can’t tax your property, and the PTA can’t put you in jail….”

    So…it should be easier to join two labor unions or two PTAs to which you have legitimate claim to membership than to vote for the leaders of two localities in which you have legitimate claim to having a stake?

    This discussion has probably jumped the shark since it’s all theoretical anyway.

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