Vote Like a Rebel

Students nationwide face voter registration hurdles, but not at UNLV

Joe Schoenmann

College students in Las Vegas have plenty of distractions—you know, the Strip, hookers, access to the sinningest of cities in the world—to keep them from the more important things in life, like studying. But let's say that random handful of UNLV students actually wants to vote this fall—having fought off their baser desires, must they now fight their way to the ballot box?

With more than a hint to the scandal of the Florida presidential vote, a new Rolling Stone article finds some American college students are being dissuaded from voting with tactics such as asking for detailed financial information or ruling that students away from home have to go back home to vote.

"From New Hampshire to California, officials have designed complex questionnaires that prevent college students from registering, hired high-powered attorneys to keep them off the rolls, shut down polling places on campuses and even threatened to arrest and imprison young voters," says the May 27 Rolling Stone article, "Mock the Vote." "Much as local registrars in the South once used poll taxes and literacy tests to deny the vote to black citizens, some county election officials now employ an intimidating mix of legal bullying and added paperwork to prevent civic-minded young people from casting ballots."

Some specifics: Students at Hamilton College in Utica, New York, were told to go home—to whatever state their parents lived in—to vote. This flies in the face of federal law that has established that college students have the right to vote where they go to school. This is what happened in Williamsburg, Virginia: "In January, when campus leaders began pushing students to register and vote, the city responded by requiring every student to fill out a two-page questionnaire detailing everything from their personal finances to where their car is registered. Of an estimated 150 students who completed questionnaires, only four have been registered."

If that's the kind of negativism students experience on the "educated" East Coast, what kind of hell do they experience in that western cowtown, Las Vegas? Nothing even close, says Harvard "Larry" Lomax, Clark County registrar of voters. Lomax says his office, which is currently processing up to 4,000 registration applications each week, has no way of being able to tell if an applicant is in college. Anyone who fills out an application to register to vote must sign a statement attesting to their citizenship, that they are an adult, that they've lived in Nevada continuously for 30 days, and that they haven't been convicted of a felony.

"If the individual fills out the application correctly and signs the above statement, we register them," says Lomax. "We have no staff or ability to investigate whether or not the individual is telling the truth or whether or not he/she is a college student. As a matter of fact, I wonder how they can do it in New York."

On a note related to the truthfulness of voting, Lomax says some computized voting machines will be equipped with a paper ballot receipt this fall. If the paper-ballot machine passes ongoing tests, they will be put on 740 touchscreen machines—which means all early-voting sites and at least one machine at every polling place on election day. All machines are to be equipped with the paper ballot machines by 2006.

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