A bill to grant Virginia students the right to register to vote in their college’s locality was scheduled to be discussed today in the General Assembly, due largely to the work of the College’s Student Assembly Department of Public Affairs. The issue caused controversy last year when the Williamsburg General Voter Registrar denied many student voter registration applications on the grounds that the students were not domiciled at their college addresses.
p. House Bill 3200, sponsored by Delegate Melanie Rapp (R-96th district), seeks to standardize the way local registrars evaluate applications. It proposes two additions to the state voter registration code.
p. The first addition says that “Registrars shall process registration applications from full-time students who are residents of Virginia and attending an institution of higher education in the commonwealth.”
p. The second says that the address a student gives the registrar will be presumed to be the address where the student is domiciled, regardless of whether the student lives there permanently or intends to stay after graduating.
p. The bill was to be discussed today at 7 a.m. in a subcommittee within the Privileges and Elections Committee and may have been passed on to the full committee for a vote, but that information was not available as of press time. SA Sen. Brett Phillips, a junior, and sophomore Ross Grogg traveled to Richmond to represent students and show support for the bill.
p. Junior Seth Levey — who was confirmed unanimously at Tuesday night’s SA meeting as the Secretary of Public Affairs and who is also the first student to hold a position on the board of the Neighborhood Council of Williamsburg as its secretary — said that the Department of Public Affairs decided last year that because student voting rights affect students across the state, the department should look beyond Williamsburg and seek statewide change.
p. “We decided to go through the state legislature because it’s a statewide issue,” Levey said, noting that the department worked with Rapp to write the bill. “We figured it would be best to go to different schools around the state … and pretty much everyone was in agreement that there should be a standard code.”
So far, they have talked with students at nine other schools about the proposed changes, and Levey said the feedback from everyone was positive.
p. He added that the bill could be changed in subcommittee.
Last year, Rapp sponsored another bill, along with state Sen. Thomas Norment, Jr., to standardize the voting code. House Bill 1604 clarified the definition of “domicile,” but it did not directly address the issue of student voting rights. The bill stayed in committee and was never voted on by the General Assembly.
At Tuesday night’s SA meeting, the efforts of the Department of Public Affairs, along the efforts of several senators, were praised as an example of the College’s senate and executive working together. Sens. Joe Luppino-Esposito, a junior, and Zach Pilchen, a sophomore, cosponsored legislation that encourages another unlikely pair to work together: the College Republican Federation of Virginia and the Virginia Young Democrats. The Coalition of Youth Political Organizations Act, which passed 18-0-1, asks both organizations to support and work for the passage of House Bill 3200.
p. The CRFV and the VAYD have already pledged to fight for the bill, and leaders of both organizations co-wrote a letter to state delegates that urges its passage.
p. “As representatives of students across Virginia, we jointly ask you to show your support for a uniform voting standard that gives native Virginian students the right to determine for themselves where they call home,” the letter reads. “We need your support today on HB 3200, just as you can expect our support come Election Day.”
p. Luppino-Esposito said that because the organizations do so much to get politicians elected, they can pressure state representatives to pass the bill, and Pilchen added that the two groups asking together sends a strong message.
p. “There’s always been a lot of animosity between these groups, and everyone likes to play off that animosity whether they’re in Richmond or the campus groups themselves,” Pilchen said. “But never, never have … [the CRFV or VAYD] ever gotten together on something and said, ‘You know what? Screw partisan politics. This is something that all the young people in Virginia can get behind.’”