Mason Votes

VA Board of Elections Accused of Attempting to Confuse Students

By Noah Martin

The Virginia State Board of Elections has been accused of possibly trying to confuse student voters. In an effort to make registering to vote easier for students, the Board has posted a self-guided questionnaire on their website.

Representatives from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School have raised concerns about the questionnaire and have sent a letter to Secretary of Virginia State Board of Elections, Nancy Rodriguez, requesting that the questionnaire be changed or removed from the website.

Jennifer Rosenburg, fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Wendy Weiser, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan center for Justice wrote in the letter, “The questionnaire may actually confuse, mislead, and intimidate student voters.” According to them, the questionnaire asks students personal questions and questions that are irrelevant to determining voter residency.

When asked about whether she thought there were ulterior motives for posting the questionnaire, Rosenburg replied, “Its impossible to get inside another person’s head. Possibly it was trying to discourage student voters, but I don’t know.”

The questionnaire consists of 11 questions, most with multiple steps, and helps the student determine whether to vote in the state of Virginia or their home state if they lived in another state prior to attending college or university.

While a completed questionnaire is not required in order to register to vote, the Virginia State Board of Elections decided to post it as a tool to be used by students if desired. “The questionnaire has been around for some time internally and has been used by registrars to help students determine whether they want to vote in Virginia or in an other state,” said Valarie Jones, Deputy Secretary for the State Board of Elections, “its for the voter to make their own decision.”

Questions pertaining to enrollment status, tax dependent status and type of tuition paid by the student, in or out-of-state, are some of the questions that Rosenburg and Weiser cite in their letter as irrelevant which might intimidate student voters. In their letter, they express the secondary concern that students may be misled into believing that registering to vote will affect their tuition or tax status. “In virtually all cases, registering to vote has no impact on such matters,” Rosenburg and Weiser wrote.

In response to accusations that the questionnaire was hindering students from registering to vote, Deputy Secretary Jones stated, “I can tell you, students are signing up in droves to vote in the state of Virginia.”

Rosenburg’s alternative for students is the Brennan Center For Justice’s Legal Guide for Student Voting, a web tool designed to inform students of their rights as voters and to dispel myths about the registration process and its possible consequences.

To view the Virginia State Board of Election’s student questionnaire and decide for yourself go here

To view Rosenburg and Weiser’s letter in response to the questionnaire go here

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