George Mason Law School

Register a voter, get $10

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December 5, 2007

7:26 PM

p. Get a student to register to vote in Williamsburg and receive $10.

p. That’s the gist of the Williamsburg Civic Engagement Act, which earmarks $15,000 to pay for the registrations and was passed by the Student Assembly last Tuesday. So far, 108 students have signed up for training to register other students.

p. Williamsburg officials voiced concerns.

p. “It is highly unusual to pay people for the number of individuals that they persuade to register to vote,” Mayor Jeanne Zeidler said. “In [the] past, people have been encouraged to register and to vote out of political belief and/or conviction, not as a business opportunity for others.”

p. “The potential for abuse is present in this proposed procedure,” she added. “I question whether it is ethical and fear that it might undermine the democratic process.”

p. But student senators say the bill is necessary to ensure that students are fairly represented and that paying to register select voter groups is not a new concept.

p. “[This] is not only legal and ethical, but also crucial,” Sen. Walter McClean ’09, who sponsored the bill along with Senate Chair Matt Beato ’09, said.

p. “There are many private grants available for registering political minorities of all types.”

p. SA President Zach Pilchen ’09 said that there were many safeguards against abuse, including the provision that nobody affiliated with the SA would be eligible to receive payment for registering voters.

p. “We are absolutely not paying people to vote,” Pilchen said. “People cannot be paid for registering themselves. If we find out that there have been any moneymaking schemes, where people say, ‘you get $3 to register to vote, and I’ll keep $7,’ that person is not only going to not get any money, but they know they are going to be honor counciled.”

p. Pilchen also said that the SA is going to widely publicize the offer so that everyone in the student body would have equal opportunity to participate.

p. Government professor John Gilmour said that there could be a problem if mandatory student fees were involved.

p. “A student might reasonably ask why their fees should be going to fund a political campaign,” Gilmour wrote in an e-mail. “It is not for a particular candidate. But it is still very political. And why should bounties be needed? If students want to vote, they can register entirely on their own.”

p. Pilchen said that none of the $15,000 would come from mandatory student fees. It will instead come from money that the SA has raised through their own fundraising projects, which include sales of refrigerators, microwaves and final exam care packages.

p. “This isn’t money that students have paid in their tuition.” Pilchen said, adding that the money comes from the same fund that has been used to pay for flowers for Sandra Day O’Connor, “Know Your Rights” cards for students and SA pizza parties.

p. There was initially debate in the senate regarding the legality of paying for student voter registration, but senators checked with the Virginia State Board of Elections.

p. “The Code of Virginia does not expressly prohibit compensating individuals [for] working on voter registration drives,” Gary Ellis, voter registration coordinator for the board, wrote in a letter.

p. McClean said that the bill is not only legal and good for students, but good for the community as well.

p. “I think citizens only stand to benefit from students being more active in the community.”

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