Stars back battle on student votes

October 1, 2004

Less than five weeks before the US presidential election, a campaign is pushing for the right of students to vote in the towns where they attend school.

The Student Voting Rights Campaign is a response to laws in 21 out of the 50 states that restrict students from voting in the towns where their universities are located because they are considered temporary residents.

Many states make it difficult for students to register to vote.

The campaign is a response to efforts by the electoral registrar in Williamsburg, Virginia, to prevent students voting in city council elections. Williamsburg was considering local rental housing regulations at the time.

Several students at the College of William and Mary in Virginia fought not only to register to vote, but to run for the city council, a fight that has gone to the courts.

The national campaign has yielded modest results. The state of Delaware, for instance, has revised its policies to allow students to use their student residences as their voting address.

But many states define residency as the "place in which the person's habitation is fixed, and to which, whenever absent, the person has the intention to return". For most students, that means voting where their parents live. Mississippi bans non-Mississippi students from voting. Only four states grant non-resident university students the right to vote.

Campaigners claim instances of officials refusing their registration forms because they carried a campus address and threats to prosecute students who give universities as their permanent residence.

Acceding to the demands could tip the balance in towns that host large universities. In Williamsburg, students make up half the city's population of 12,000.

The campaign has been endorsed by actors Edie Falco and Scarlett Johansson, who told the organisers: "This new generation has such diverse and powerful opinions. The most prevalent way to get your voice heard is by exercising your right to vote. So go out and register now."

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