“Give me liberty, or give me death!” The words of Patrick Henry permeated throughout the Colonies, announcing the birth of our nation — words firmly rooted in the principles of free speech, of political and religious tolerance, and, perhaps most fundamentally, of the right to vote. In his most famous address, given to the Virginia House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry scolded the British government for its continued repression of these rights. And it was not much longer before the streets of Williamsburg were filled with Thomas Paine’s revolutionary pamphlet “Common Sense,” reflecting the uniquely American sentiment for self-determination. Yet just 230 years later, in the very birthplace of democratic idealism, such “common sense” has somehow become less commonplace.
p. As students of the College and citizens of Williamsburg, our right to vote locally is imperative. For many students, our college years represent the first opportunity we have to participate actively in the democratic process. Most students live in Williamsburg nine or more of the 12 months of the year. We are residents, consumers, employees, volunteers and taxpayers. Thus, not only do the students of the College have strong immediate ties to Williamsburg, we have a consistent interest in the future of this town.
p. Many would argue that students are transient and thus should not be allowed to vote. However, the average American family moves every four to five years (according to the U.S. Census), roughly equivalent to the period of time that students spend in college. The true case for student enfranchisement lies in our perpetual ties to the community. With each graduating class comes a freshmen class that carries on the interests of those that have preceded them. For these reasons, students, university officials, public officials and citizens should support measures that encourage student enfranchisement instead of ignoring an inadequate system that cripples democratic ideals. Unfortunately, the latter reflects the current state of affairs.
p. Over the last several years, students across the Commonwealth have experienced decreased enfranchisement as the result of an inconsistent state election code — one that affords students at U.Va, George Mason and Virginia Tech the right to vote in their respective college towns, but disenfranchises students wishing to vote in Williamsburg and Fredericksburg. As it currently stands, voter registrars in local precincts have the authority to “interpret” voting law and requirements according to personal discretion. The local registrar in Williamsburg, David Andrews, maintains a policy that makes it very difficult for in-state William and Mary students to vote. Bear in mind, about half of the residents of Williamsburg attend the College (according to the U.S. Census). University students are not properly represented, resulting in a breach of the basic principles found in the U.S. Constitution – and that must change.
p. As members of the Student Assembly charged with representing student interests to the greater public, it is our duty to ensure that your voice is heard and that your issues are represented. We have heard the stories of disenfranchisement and we have witnessed the belittlement of our concerns. For these reasons, we worked with General Assembly delegate Melanie Rapp and introduced legislation in the 2007 session of the General Assembly (referenced as HB 3200) to clarify the state election code pertaining to student voting. Subsequently, the bill was tabled to be heard next session. But, with unwavering determination, we pledge to seek all reasonable and necessary means for the realization of full student enfranchisement in Virginia. To us, it is simply “common sense.”
p. __Seth Levey, Secretary of Public Affairs in the SA, and Brett Phillips, a senator in the SA, are juniors at the College. Their views do not necessarily represent those of The Flat Hat.__