Krauss on Voters' Legal Residence

Pointing to efforts to increase registration of college students in advance of the November election, Professor Michael Krauss explains that a Supreme Court case currently being cited as allowing students to vote at their college address is far more complex than it appears.

Krauss cites a September 8 New York Times article entitled "Voter Registration by Students Raises Cloud of Consequences" in which Symm v. United States is said to allow such registration. In fact, says Krauss, the interpretation is both incomplete and misleading. According to Krauss, the case actually reiterates not that college students may automatically vote where they are studying, but only that the law requires they be treated identically to others who register to vote in the same jurisdiction. This means that a jurisdiction may ask questions designed to verify legal residence and ask for supporting evidence of a student's claim, but only if they require the same of all those who choose to register there.

In early September, the Virginia State Board of Elections published guidelines allowing students to claim Virginia residency without challenge. In response, the City of Norfolk (VA) Office of Elections has stated it believes the directive violates Virginia election laws.  

"Registering to vote is a fundamental rite of citizenship. It is not to be undertaken frivolously and dishonestly. Shame on anyone who manipulates this process in order to tamper with our electoral college system of state-based presidential elections," said Krauss.

The Obama College Try, National Review Online, October 2, 2008. by Michael Krauss.

"Changing one’s legal residence requires a student’s honest belief that she intends to reside indefinitely at her new residence, the college town. Sometimes this is doubtful (do Washington and Lee students really intend to reside indefinitely in tiny Lexington, Va.?).

"A less-than-truthful declaration could catch up with the declarant in future years, if he or she contemplates a career requiring vetting or close press scrutiny. But even if an honest student has suddenly acquired the intention of residing indefinitely in his college town, does he understand the legal implications of a residence change? Where is the student filing her income-tax return (will she be liable for another state’s tax)? Is the student claimed as a dependent on her parents’ return (if so, it is hard to have a separate legal residence)? Does the student have a residence-dependent scholarship (some require that recipients reside in a particular town or state) that might be imperiled by a change of residence? Would the student’s automobile or health-insurance coverage be affected by a change in residence, especially if the student is covered by her parents’ policy?"

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