Students angry at report on registration practices
By Mitra Taj, Arizona Daily Wildcat 09 September 2004
Group says story may keep students from registering to vote in Ariz.
UA students yesterday demanded the county and state retract statements broadcasted on Fox 11 News, which claimed out-of-state students could become felons if they registered to vote in Arizona. (see below for transcript of the story)
Though the retractions were denied, students settled for a clarification from the Pima County Recorder Ann Rodriguez.
The UA Network of Feminist Student Activists said an Aug. 31 FOX-11 News broadcast could discourage out-of-state students from registering to vote in Arizona and participating in November's election.
The Fox story, which ran at 9 that night, filmed the NFSA Get Out Her Vote registration drive on the UA Mall and questioned whether registering out-of-state students to vote in Arizona is illegal.
Pima County Voter Registrar Chris Roads said on the program that out-of-state students are committing a felony if they register to vote in Arizona and they don't intend on remaining in the state "indefinitely."
Fox reporter Natalie Tejeda interviewed women's studies and political science senior and NFSA president Kelly Kraus, who cited voter registration forms and said out-of-state students aren't breaking any laws by registering to vote in Arizona as long as they do so within 29 days of the election.
After consulting with law experts and mobilizing support with different organizations, Kraus and NFSA vice president Juliana Zacurro, a women's studies, political science and creative writing senior, decided to ask for apologies from the offices of the Pima County recorder and the Secretary of State. Officials at the Secretary of State's Office told the students interpretation of state registration laws are determined by the county recorder.
Roads, a Republican, denied the students' request for a retraction of his statements.
"I can't retract state law," Roads said.
If they see themselves as residents of the state in their mind, they can register to vote here.
- Ann Rodriguez, Pima County Recorder
Rodriguez, a Democrat, also refused to issue a retraction but said that as the "official spokesperson" for the county recorder's office, she wanted to clarify her colleague's position, emphasizing that it's enough for students to consider themselves Arizona residents when they register to vote.
"A student at the University of Arizona is treated as any other citizen of this community. If they see themselves as residents of the state in their mind, they can register to vote here," Rodriguez said. "I'm not going to challenge their intent."
No other proof, such as an Arizona driver's license, a utility bill, or a period of residency in Arizona longer than 29 days before elections, is required of out-of-state students, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the county has never rejected, much less penalized any students from out of state for registering to vote in Arizona.
But Roads said years in the future, systemized voter databases across the country would help states catch those who have illegally voted.
"While a person may not be caught this month or this year, the chances of getting caught in the future are pretty significant," Roads said.
The Help America Vote Act, passed by Congress in 2002, will require all states to have a single voter registration database by 2006. All states would be required to verify every voter's registration records through the state motor vehicle database and the Social Security administration database to verify the identity of the voter.
Roads said he expects that in the future, states will compare databases to catch those who have illegally voted. Roads said that would include out-of-state students who registered to vote in Arizona without the intention of remaining in the state.
"If you intend to remain here indefinitely then you qualify as a resident," he said. "If a student decides that they are not an Arizona resident, I encourage them to register to vote in their own home state."
But Rodriguez said the chances of the HAVA requirements being used to find students who really didn't intend to stay in Arizona when they voted are "miniscule."
"The intent of the HAVA is to make sure people do not register to vote in two states and vote in two states," she said. "That's the true nature of HAVA."
Rodriguez said if a student changes their mind later and decides to leave the state, there's no reason why the county or the state should doubt their intentions.
"Who knows what's going to happen in time," Rodriguez said. "Maybe they get a great paying job in another state and decide to leave. That's their business."
Zacurro said she's "sort of happy" with the clarification but said it shouldn't have taken so long.
Though Zucarro and Kraus didn't accuse Fox 11 or the county recorder of coordinating the content of the broadcast or purposefully intimidating young people from voting, they said attempts to suppress the youth vote have been happening across the country.
"Students at the University of Arizona stand in solidarity with all student voters in defending their right to vote in their college communities and have their voices heard," said Kraus.
Laura Briggs, associate professor of women's studies and anthropology circulated an e-mail on university listservs in which she called the Fox program and Roads' comments "scary as hell" and suggested Fox 11 News might have been in cahoots with the Republican Party to try to stop registration drives by the Feminist Majority Foundation.
A statement issued yesterday by Fox 11 News managing editor, Bob Richardson, said Briggs was implying that the story was part of a conspiracy, claims he called "patently false."
"FOX 11 News (KMSB) is an independent journalism organization based in Tucson," the statement said. "We are not associated with any political party and work hard to maintain our independence."
Richardson said the story gave both sides of the story a voice.
"The story was balanced and reported various viewpoints of an important issue," he said in the statement. "We will continue to report on that issue and stand by our original story."
Sue Walitsky, communications director for the Kerry-Edwards campaign in Arizona, said since the Fox 11 News program aired, the Arizona Democratic Party has been researching Roads' interpretation of state law, which she said was wrong.
She said Fox never should have run the story.
"There's an expectation that the media will help inform people," she said. "They should not be intimidating students or threatening them."
Zacurro said the Fox program won't stop organizations from registering students to vote.
"We're not going to be intimidated," Zacurro said. "We're not going to be dismayed over these apparent attempts to discourage students from voting."
University organizations like ASUA, the UA Voter Coalition, the UA Young Democrats, the College Republicans, the UA ACLU, Campus Libertarians, the UA Law School National Lawyer's Guild, and the UA Women's Studies Department supported the NFSA along with 11 community organizations.
About 35 percent of UA students are from out of state.
Transcript of the Fox 11 News Broadcast:
Anchor: "Well, both the local parties this year are putting on a big push to get young people to register to vote, but are they also encouraging them to break the law? Fox 11's Natalie Tejeda is live at the University of Arizona with more on this story, Natalie."
Natalie: "Several hundred students have registered to vote here over the past few days, but the Pima County Registrar of voters believes many may have unintentionally committed a felony."
Student to other student: "Are you registered to vote?"
Natalie: "History has shown that every vote can in fact count, but several organizations holding registration drives claim many don't make their voice heard."
(Network of Feminist Student Activists) Kelly Kraus: "Women our age 18-24 vote less than any other age group of women so we decided something needed to be done to start registering and mobilizing young women in our community and on campus."
Natalie: "But is that mobilization going in the right direction?"
(Network of Feminist Student Activists) Juliana Zuccaro, does not say individuals name in report: "I'm from California, but I switched so I can vote in the Presidential election in Arizona."
Natalie: "What many don't realize is that legally, students from out of state aren't eligible to vote in Arizona because they're considered temporary residence."
(Pima County Registrar's Office) Chris Roads: "If they are only here to attend school and their intention is to immediatly return to where they came from when school is over then they are not residents of the state of Arizona for voting purposes and they cannot register to vote here."
Natalie: "Representatives of the Network of Feminist Student Activists on campus disagree."
Kelly Kraus: "On the registration form it says as long as you have residency 29 days before the election, so people who live here now who moved here before school started and moved into the dorms, they are legal residents."
Natalie: "It's a gray area that has lead to numerous legal battles including a supreme court case. However, Chris Roads of the Registrar of Voters says the law is on their side and those caught mis-representing their residency can face a severe punishment."
Chris Roads: "The form in Arizona is an affadavit; it is a felony offense if you are lying on that form."
Natalie: "So how easy is it to get caught? Well, starting this past January all voter applications are cross checked with the Motor Vehicles Department and social security Administration. If they find that you are falsifying your residency you could be prosecuted. At this time we don't know if anybody has yet been indicted, but Roads says one of the easiest things you can do to avoid all that is simply go on-line or pick up the phone call your home state's elections office and ask for an absentee ballot."
Anchor: "Better to be safe on that one, Thanks Natalie."