In Norfolk, Va., College Students Struggle To Vote
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Last winter, dozens of students at Norfolk State University applied on campus to vote in the presidential primaries. But the local registrar of election said, no, they weren't Virginia residents. So, those students didn't get to vote. This is still happening in some places decades after the Supreme Court ruled that students should be allowed to vote where they go to college. NPR's Libby Lewis reports.
LIBBY LEWIS: Elena Welch (ph) is a senior at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. She signed up on campus to vote in the November elections awhile back. She used her on-campus address. Instead of a voter-registration card, she got a packet of information from the local registrar with a slew of questions to figure out whether she was really a resident or not. The questionnaire asked whether she owned or leased property in Norfolk. It asked whether she intended to make Norfolk her home. It asked whether she was listed as a dependent on her parents' income-tax forms. She didn't send it back.
Ms. ELENA WELCH (Student, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia): Basically, it was kind of vague and confusing, and the impression that I got was, well, I guess I shouldn't be registering here.
LEWIS: Welch says it's frustrating for her.
Ms. WELCH: This is the first year I'm actually eligible to vote, because the previous election I barely, you know, missed it. I was 17, and I feel like the first time that I'm able to vote, I want the full experience, and I want to go to the polls. I don't want to send in an absentee ballot. But I mean, I'm a good student and I can't, you know, afford to just miss class to drive all the way home.
LEWIS: At lunchtime, I meet Lamine Manserret (ph). He's a senior at Old Dominion, too, but he's never even tried to register to vote in Norfolk. He's registered where he grew up, in Alexandria, Virginia.
Mr. LAMINE MANSERRET (Student, Old Dominion University): I understood that the only way you could vote here is as if you did absentee.
LEWIS: And how did you get that information?
Mr. MANSERRET: Really, by ear, from what I've heard from other students.
LEWIS: He's heard too many bad stories about absentee ballots not getting counted or getting lost.
Mr. MANSERRET: So, all this stuff makes me paranoid. So, I think I'm just going to go home and just vote that way.
LEWIS: You're going to drive home?
Mr. MANSERRET: Yeah, three hours, got to do it.
LEWIS: James Boyd (ph), a student volunteer for Barack Obama, says a lot of students can't drive home.
Mr. JAMES BOYD (Student, Old Dominion University): It all seems so confusing because they've heard around campus that you cannot use your address to register to vote. If they hear that, they're going to say, well, I'm not going home, so I guess I'm skipping out.
LEWIS: And in Virginia, truly a battleground state, that's not something James Boyd's candidate, Barack Obama, wants to hear. Many young voters are supporting Obama. So, Obama's people and other nonpartisan voting groups have been quietly making their case with the powers that be in Virginia and in other states. In Norfolk, they've been calling on the local elections board, the mayor, and the local registrar, Elisa Long. Those efforts ratcheted it up this week.
Today, the local elections board announced the registrar would stop using the residency questionnaire to determine whether a student is a true resident. The board indicated it's not happy with the change. Meanwhile, this being America, the persistent nudging of the Obama folks, among others, will make it easier for Elena Welch to vote for John McCain. Libby Lewis, NPR News.
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NORRIS: This week's emotional rollercoaster on Wall Street and the end of Yankee Stadium. Those stories coming up on All Things Considered.
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