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A new group, the Student Voter Project, wants to turn around the campus' low precinct turnout -- and possibly influence this year's 12th District race.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
A new voter registration effort aims to sign up 3,000 Virginia Tech students and sway the 12th District House of Delegates race.
“The Student Voter Project will use the momentum gained from last year’s presidential election to continue registering and turning out the student vote,” said a statement the new group issued Monday. “SVP will work to make voting cool again.”
The Student Voter Project is a non partisan effort that was prompted by low turnout at the Tech campus E-3 voting precinct during recent non presidential elections.
“In particular, only 89 Hokies voted in 2011 at the campus-designated precinct — out of thousands of possible eligible voters,” the project’s statement said.
While the E-3 precinct had just 89 votes cast in the House of Delegates race in 2011, several times that number voted in the Blacksburg Town Council election and other races on the ballot, including a state Senate race. But the numbers were far short of the thousands the Student Voter Project hopes to bring to the polls.
Shawn Ghuman, who graduated from Tech’s undergraduate communication program in May and is one of the new project’s organizers, wrote in an email that large numbers of student voters could be particularly important in the 12th District House of Delegates race. In the 12th District, which includes Giles County and Radford and parts of Montgomery and Pulaski counties, incumbent Joseph Yost, R-Pearisburg , faces Democratic challenger James Harder of Blacksburg.
The Montgomery County section of the 12th, an area that includes Blacksburg, is home to about half the district’s approximately 44,000 registered voters.
Large student turnout could also affect the governor’s race, Ghuman wrote.
Harder and Yost welcomed the new registration effort.
“It’s great to see the student body take ownership of their state’s future. Any group devoted to encouraging students to get involved in the political process has my support,” Harder said.
Yost agreed. “I encourage everyone to get involved with the electoral process and think that this is an opportunity for young voters to get engaged early on. I look forward to being able to talk with students from Virginia Tech and Radford University to ensure that their schools continue to receive the support they need to provide quality education for workforce-ready graduates,” Yost said.
Like other university communities in Virginia, Montgomery County has a record of confusion surrounding student registrations. Voter registrars or their staff have sometimes told students they should register at their parents’ residences rather than in Blacksburg.
Montgomery County Voter Registrar Randy Wertz, who has waded through such arguments numerous times, wrote in an email Monday that registration drives on Tech’s campus dramatically increase his staff’s workload. Thousands of new registrations before the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012 necessitated bringing in temporary workers and volunteers, he wrote in an email Monday.
“This is quite a burden on my staff and me,” Wertz wrote.
But, he added, “This is what happens in a locality with a large university within its borders.”
Josh Yazman, another of the project’s organizers and a senior majoring in political science at Tech, said he’d met with Wertz and planned to turn in registrations in batches to make them easier to process — “just to bring him smaller chunks of work,” Yazman said.
“I think it’s important for students to have a voice in government,” Yazman continued. “And we never will unless we vote in large numbers. … It seems pretty basic.”
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