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Young Han tried to register to vote in the New York town where he attends college but got a letter telling him to cast an absentee ballot where his parents live, more than 2,000 miles away. In Virginia, Luther Lowe and Serene Alami were told much the same — their campus addresses at the College of William & Mary were deemed “temporary.” With so much emphasis on getting young people to the polls this election, the issue of where college students can register to vote is getting more attention. And some students — who believe they should have the right to vote where they live most of the year — are getting organized. “We plan to push this issue,” says Han, a 21-year old junior at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., who’s originally from a Seattle suburb. “Students are being disenfranchised.” Han spent the summer interning in Washington, D.C., where he met Lowe and other students who share his cause. They formed the grass-roots Student Voting Rights Campaign. Now the group is calling for a “day of action” on Sept. 23, urging students to register en masse — even if they meet with resistance. Students in some states will find they have no problem, say researchers at the Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Salisbury University in Maryland. They’ve found that, in recent years, more states have loosened voting restrictions on college students. But there are always exceptions, especially in smaller towns. “Local politicians are very unsure about students,” says Michael O’Loughlin, a political science professor at Salisbury. “They enjoy having students pay (sales) taxes and contribute to the economy. But they are wary of how students could influence politics at a local level.” Ultimately, O’Loughlin and fellow researchers have found that students who attend college in states that force or “encourage” them to vote absentee are less likely to vote. David Andrews, general voter registrar in Williamsburg, Va., says that’s why he goes out of his way to help William & Mary students navigate the absentee process. He says he assisted about 2,000 vote absentee in the 2002 election. But Virginia laws — “rules that apply to everyone,” he says — make it unlikely that he’ll let students register in his town. At issue, he says, is the fact that dorms are considered temporary addresses, “like a hotel room or a time share.” So when he gets a voter registration form with a campus address on it, he poses more questions to the applicant: What is the address on your driver’s license? Where is your car registered? If Williamsburg isn’t the answer, the student probably won’t be allowed to register there. Some William & Mary students think that’s unfair. They’ve filed a federal lawsuit demanding the right to vote in their college town and to run for city council. They say students deserve to have a voice in local issues that directly affect them — housing ordinances, for instance. “It makes no sense for me to vote in a city election where my parents live,” says Lowe, a 22-year-old senior who is represented in the lawsuit. “I live in Williamsburg nine months out of the year.” There have been students who’ve overcome voting registration barriers. Students at Prairie View A&M University in Texas won the right to vote in their county after settling a lawsuit of their own. And in Oneida County, N.Y., attention brought by Han and other students at Hamilton College prompted officials there to stop sending out letters that told students to vote absentee. Han plans to register there when he returns for fall term. Meanwhile, some students are challenging colleges and universities to provide ample voter registration materials to students — something federal law requires them to do. Still others, including 20-year-old Eric Krassoi Peach, are working with such organizations as Rock the Vote. The sophomore at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., has a goal of registering 1,000 students at his tiny school. “That’s a serious voting block,” says Krassoi Peach, founder of Hendrix Community of Informed Voters, which distributes registration and candidate information to students. Still others plan to vote absentee. They include 19-year-old Caitlin Davis, who attends Georgetown University but prefers to vote in her home state, California. Davis — spokeswoman and resident “blogger” for the Web site “Register and Vote 2004″ — says her main goal is to get people her age to vote, one way or another. “A lot of people,” she says, “are unaware of just how easy it is.” Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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