Nearly a year ago, Williamsburg General Voter Registrar Dave Andrews rejected now-sophomore Sen. Zach Pilchen’s voter registration application. Even though Pilchen’s driver’s license matched his dormitory address, Andrews ruled that it was unclear if Pilchen was domiciled in Williamsburg, and he was therefore ineligible to vote in the city.
p. But in Andrews’ eyes, Pilchen — and perhaps dozens of other students previously denied voter registration — may now be domiciled in the city. Andrews announced a procedure change this week saying that he will now register anyone who has a driver’s license that lists an address in Williamsburg.
p. College President Gene Nichol praised Andrews’ announcement in his State of the College address, saying that the new rules would open “the door very substantially to fuller participation in the political process.”
p. Andrews, who will be up for reappointment in June, said that the change comes with the arrival of a new statewide electronic voter registration system that ties into the Department of Motor Vehicles database.
p. “If we receive a non-permanent address, we will check to see if the address matches the DMV residence address,” he said. “If it does, the application is accepted at that point. State law requires you to notify DMV within 30 days of moving to a new address, so this is a good standard.”
p. Andrews said that he made the change in part because the State Board of Elections did not support guidelines for registering transitory voters, but instead set aside a proposed policy clarification at its January meeting.
p. Sophomore Sen. Matt Beato, an active supporter of student voting rights, said he believes this is the primary reason Andrews changed the policy.
p. “The SBE’s decision to not approve the guidelines is a repudiation of the policy Dave Andrews has used to deny dozens of students the right to vote in Williamsburg,” Beato said.
p. If it had passed, the non-binding policy would have endorsed Andrews’ original policy of issuing a questionnaire to applicants with an address at a dormitory, military barracks or any other non-permanent abode in order to determine domicile. Now the form will only be used if an applicant’s address does not match the address listed on his or her driver’s license.
p. At the January SBE meeting, several people made public comments against the proposed policy clarification.
Among those commenting was Chris Faia, a Democratic member of the Williamsburg Electoral Board, the group that will be responsible for appointing the voter registrar.
p. The proposed SBE policy “is, I believe, a step backward, an effort to use selective criteria to discriminate against certain groups, an effort that is reminiscent of poll taxes and literacy tests,” she said in a written statement to the state board.
For now, Faia is satisfied with the procedure change offered by Andrews. She remains hopeful, however, that the SBE or the legislature will clarify the code and open voting to students living at college.
p. Beato agrees that there should be further clarification.
p. “I believe that Andrews has changed his policy before and could do so again to disenfranchise students,” he said.
The issue of voter registration came to the forefront in 2004 when four students at the college ran for city council and many students found they could not register in Williamsburg. Controversy was renewed in 2006 when then-junior David Sievers announced his candidacy for city council and students faced similar problems when registering to vote.
p. Now many students previously rejected during the past election seasons may be able to vote.
p. The State Board of Elections released a report about voter registration in Williamsburg in March and April of 2006. During that period, at least 11 out of 89 applications were rejected that would likely be accepted under the new policy. It is unclear how many such cases have come up in the intervening months.
p. Pilchen may have been the first of these students to take advantage of the policy. He has already re-registered to vote, and Andrews accepted the application. Pilchen is happy to be able to register in Williamsburg, but he remains baffled about the policy change.
p. “I just don’t understand it,” Pilchen said. “[Andrews] said to me personally [Jan. 15] that using a driver’s license was silly, that it doesn’t mean anything about where you are determined to live, where your roots are, where you pay taxes. He said that what the DMV says means nothing. Then three days ago, he announced this new policy.”