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Virginia: student registration roadblocks

The New Republic reports: For the first time since 1964, Democrats actually have a chance of winning Virginia's 13 electoral votes. Barack Obama is up 4.8% according to the Real Clear Politics average, and according to Nate Silver, Virginia could be one of this election's decisive swing states. And, in a state with 161 colleges and 483,159 students, the predominantly Democratic youth vote could play a huge role in tipping the election Obama's way.

But there's a hold-up: Virginia's local laws make it exceedingly difficult for students to register in their college towns. Indeed, though other states like Idaho and Tennessee also make student registration so difficult as to border on disenfranchisement, the barriers to student voter registration in Virginia are, some experts say, some of the most problematic in the country.

At Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, for instance, students who visited their local registration office last month were met with dire warnings from the Montgomery County registrar, Randall Wertz. Wertz issued official releases telling students that, by registering, "you have declared your independence from your parents and can no longer be claimed as a dependent on their income tax filings. ... If you have a scholarship attached to your former residence, you could lose this funding." Juanita Pitchford, the registrar for Fredericksburg, where the University of Mary Washington is located, requires that all students interview with her before registering so she can decide on a case-by-case basis whether they can vote. "The student must prove that it is their intent to be considered living in Fredericksburg," said Pitchford (who, in 2004, denied applications from all on-campus students), speaking to The Free Lance-Star. Recently, Pitchford said, "I speak to every student ... and I explain the full ramifications" of registering, including telling students that registering in Fredericksburg can jeopardize scholarships and tax dependency on their parents. -- Silencing the Students

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