UPDATE: Virginia politicians use lies to scare Democrat-leaning Virginia Tech students away from voting

Update: A reader sez,

I can tell you firsthand that no Republican officials that I know of have been involved in this situation.

There are certainly partisan undertones around this story however, considering the Obama campaign has much to gain from a large registration effort at Va. Tech. But any facts supporting the idea that Republicans were behind the misinformation distributed by the county where Virginia Tech is located have not emerged.

You can read the original story here

You might also be interested in this subsequent story, which points out that the campus and surrounding area is divided into no fewer than five precincts, and the main polling place for the area where most dorms are located is four miles from the campus and inaccessible by public transportation.

From Jon Taplin's blog: "Late last month local Virginia Republican officials began to worry about the thousands of students at Virginia Tech who were being registered by the Obama Campaign. So they put out a series of press releases incorrectly asserting dire consequences for the students."

The releases warned that such students could no longer be claimed as dependents on their parents’ tax returns, a statement the Internal Revenue Service says is incorrect, and could lose scholarships or coverage under their parents’ car and health insurance.
Stopping Students From Voting


  1. Voting from somewhere outside your parents’ precinct can result in disinheritance, with your parents’ estate being awarded to remaining children or, at the state’s option, the local Republican Party.

    I like that the Obama spokesman didn’t challenge the GOP county official’s “explanation.” The lie and its exposure probably got Democrats mad enough to redouble their GOTV efforts, resulting in a footbullet for the county GOP.

  2. Oh, hell. Back when I was in school, I not only voted absentee from my home town, I voted locally in the town the college was located.

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  4. If nothing else this will cause more students to vote against a Republican now that the correct info is out.

    The Republican party seriously needs an overhaul – they just keep getting worse and worse.

  5. Um. No.

    I’m a Virginia Democrat. I went to Virginia Tech (PSCI ’05), and I was a Blacksburg voter in my time there, having moved my registration from Charlottesville. I’m enormously familiar with Virginia politics. This blog entry is not true.

    What Jon Taplin has invented is the involvement of Republicans. His source is this New York Times article, which never uses the word “Republican.” While living in Blacksburg, I was active with the local Democratic Party and involved with the town council race. Both parties are alive and well Blacksburg—it’s not a Republican town.

    Further, Virginia Tech students are not Democratic-leaning. I was a member of the YDs, and we were significantly outnumbered by YRs. Now, college students are now way more likely to favor Obama, so I know that this is an unusual case, but it’s just not true to call the student body “Democrat-leaning.”

    What is accurate is that registrars in college towns don’t like having students register. This is widely true in Virginia. There are a bunch of reasons for that, most of which I strongly disagree with them. One of those reasons is not, however, that the students are Democrats and the registrars are part of an evil Republican conspiracy.

  6. From the NYT article:

    “Kevin Griffis, the Obama campaign’s Virginia spokesman, said the release appeared to be a good-faith effort to convey state guidelines, not a politically motivated effort to stop voting by students.

    Mr. Wertz said the initial release had been written by an intern whom he asked to summarize the guidelines. Although the second release used the state’s precise language, he said, it still left room for confusion. In other counties, registrars have refused to accept dormitory addresses as residences. But so far, the state has not set clear standards.

    Sounds less like an attempt to scare likely Democrat voters, and more like an attempt to provide information to all college students thinking about registering outside of their state of residence.

    And there were two releases. Does that make a series?

  7. #6 I think voting based purely on what you percieve as media bias is the best reason to vote ever.
    I mean, why bother doing any reading up/research on your own? Just vote Republican so you can show those meanie media figures who’s boss! They are such jerks picking on the poor little cuddly Republicans who are such pinnacles of virtue. You’ll sure tell them!

  8. Sounds less like an attempt to scare likely Democrat voters, and more like an attempt to provide information to all college students thinking about registering outside of their state of residence.

    Sounds more like an attempt to scare likely college voters (an identifiable block of voters who are more left leaning than the rest of the population) in a suddenly “in-play” district.

    The cynical side of me says VT voters are likely to be slightly more pro gun-control or at least more pro-mental health care than your average college student voters. That would work against McCain/Palin.

    Most of the registrars and their staffs are in that area are republican appointees, and we all know how reliable republican appointees have proven to be at squelching votes in Ohio and in Florida. But hey, that was 4 and 8 years ago. I should learn to trust.

    #9 and #10, you may not have ever heard the term “ratfucking”. Then again, you may know it well. I honestly can not tell from this distance.

  9. yeah, mostly #10 and #14.

    Waldo @ #9 – I’m curious if you agree with my theory about potential VT student voters. Those who would consider changing their registration, that is. Every vote counts, and if the district is close, a few dozen student votes could make a difference in either direction.

    I’m against voter suppression in general and pro-Obama second.

  10. This is only one of a number of strategies the GOP has cranked up again to discourage voting.

    What does it say about a party that feels low voter turnout so benefits them they must engage in these practices?

    They are scared but they also just don’t give a damn. They want what they want and they’ll get it any way they can.

  11. @6 As wonderful as boingboing is, you should look at far broader sources of information before deciding who to vote for.

  12. …Well, you know kids, it could have been worse:

    “A vote for Obama means that somewhere, some psychotic, ostracized chinese student with a bad stutter and a lisp is going to go on a shooting spree on a college campus!”

    I wouldn’t worry about it, tho. Palin will get the VPILF vote, and in two years we’ll have our first female POTUS anyway…:-)

  13. You know, I’m as liberal as the next guy (and living here in Massachusetts, that’s saying something), but I’m hornswoggled if I can figure out how you guys were able to tag Montgomery County registrar Randall Wertz as a Republican.


    Anyone got any evidence? Because that would be great.

    Otherwise what we have is a kerfluffle about something that even the Obama ground organization says is a well meaning mistake rather than deliberate malfeasance.

  14. BATES#233@6: Can BB help it that the Republicans are the first to be pulling out the dirty tricks so far in this election? Talia @13 said the rest best, giving you a hell of a lot of leeway and taking you at face value.

    WALDO@9: “Virginia Tech students are not Democratic-leaning.”

    Please go re-read. The author is not saying that the VT students are Dem-leaning on the whole, they are saying the Dem-leaning VT students are being targeted with this disinformation. Right or wrong, this would seem to be what the original author and BB’s headline are saying.

    The NYT article does little to help clarify the issue, in that they make this glaring mistake:

    “Student-registration controversies have been a recurring problem since 1971, when the 26st Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 from 21.”

    Lowered from 18 to 21? I would not have expected elementary math to baffle the NYT.

  15. bates233, another troll out of the wood work or a name change to prevent detection of posting stupidity? YOU make the call.

    Now VT students might be more conservative than other universities, but for Virginia Senate, a Democrat ran unopposed. A Democrat running unopposed in Virginia is a pretty rare thing indeed. In the House of Delegates, we also have a Democrat, not unopposed, from Blacksburg. So yes, there would be concerns from Republicans. So the next question to answer is how influenced is the County Registrar by Republican politics? Well no actually, the board is ran by Democrats, the chairman (or in this case chairwoman) is a Democrat. So as a Obama supporter I can say, why this is bull on voting, its also bull on being the Republicans versus same old, same old.

  16. #6

    Have you not been paying attention to the recent actions of the Republican party?

    The incumbent president screwed up royally, has not lifted a finger to actually help anyone in this country in 8 years. Trickle down economics is a laughable disaster. The war is a disaster. Gas and food prices are a disaster.

    The new guy is hell bent on destroying himself with attacks after saying how he wanted to play nice this election. He has also shifted position on just about every single issue (yes Obama has apparently shifted position on occasion too – it’s nothing like McCain’s flipping). He hasn’t yet (even through the Republican convention) actually told us what he stands for or what his direction for the country will be other than drill drill drill war war war.

    There is very little reason to actually like Republicans right now.

  17. @Phikus #24:

    “Student-registration controversies have been a recurring problem since 1971, when the 26st Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 from 21.”

    About which you said, “Lowered from 18 to 21? I would not have expected elementary math to baffle the NYT.”

    Read the NYT quote again.

  18. Why doesn’t someone in the media (like the NY Times, for example…) call the local McCain headquarters, or at least the local Republican Party and get a statement?

    I’m an Obama supporter myself, but I also don’t like shoddy journalism. How much time would it take to just get something, even a “no comment until we look into it” from the McCain campaign?

  19. What this also points out is why it is very dangerous to depend on Internet blogs such as this as your sole source of news, something that is happening more and more unfortunately. I read the NY Times and while they are not perfect, the amount of time and energy wasted on this because no one even bothered to click through to the original article or do some basic research is mind boggling. Wake up America, real news requires professionals not amateurs. And yes it self corrects over time, but remember many still believe that Obama is a Muslim and wait for the day that those of nefarious means really start to use the web as a source for their propoganda.

  20. Waldo @ #9 – I went to VT a bit, um, earlier than you. And the reason you could do that (move your registration from home to Blacksburg) was because during the time I was there a student sued for the right to do so. At the time students simply weren’t allowed to register in Blacksburg but were told to vote absentee in their home town.

    This had less to do with partisanship than with fear of some kind of student revolution since the student body actually outnumbers the locals. The guy who pushed the case was an ambitious young political science major who wanted to run for city council and, once the courts had slapped them down hard and forced them to register students locally, he did so.

    The terror was palpable, like buy a gun and lock up your daughters panic. They really did think it was going to be like that town in Oregon where the Rajneeshi cult moved in, packed the city council and basically took over. That election had the highest voter turnout I think Blacksburg had ever seen – all locals. Maybe a hundred or so Tech students bothered to vote and the student got creamed in the most lopsided electoral defeat I’ve ever seen.

  21. The polling place is 4 miles away and there’s no public transportation? So pretty much like rural areas all over the country then?

  22. Well no one said they make it easy to vote. I voted in Michigan when I was in school there since you could register when you got a drivers license. This is typical in the south where there are universities, but what can you say, if the president of the universities were willing to put some of their political power on the line, things could change. Or students can find a way to make the locals hurt money wise. Whoops, what am I thinking, this isn’t the 60’s. Making money from a good degree is the only thing important to most students now days.

  23. Oh and its not the presidential election the locals are concerned with — its the local elections for county board and state government that give them heartburn. One thing for sure, if an out of state student at VT is going to vote Democrat, that can be a big deal in Virginia a state that might go blue for the first time since LBJ was it? Remember how close the Webb-Allen contest was.

  24. Strange. I usually go to political news sites or blogs for political news.

    While treading on citizens’ rights to vote is an awful thing, I can’t remember seeing other political information here, much less anything that points out some of the awful behavior from the other side… keep it fair. And remember, in the US, both political parties suck, and we only have one more choice in candidates than China does.

    Now… get off of politics and back onto cool stuff.

  25. But Worm! you’ve only commented twice, both times on very recent political articles…this is your second, a “shut your faces” comment to boot.
    I think you are the one playing politics, the kkind that starts ” I hat politics, but…”. kinda like those liars who say ” I’m as liberal as anyone, BUT…”
    Keep it fair? You been writing to Fox News have you?

  26. Yosemite Sam Independents:

    “Oh! I’m HOPPING MAD at Boing Boing for picking on Republicans so I’m a’gonna register as a Republican this time around.”

    Yosemite Sam, just one of the millions of fair, unbiased, non-prejudicial and neutral independent observers who are abandoning the Democratic Party in droves to lend support to the Republican Party because Dems are always fucking up and blaming Republicans while Republicans do everything perfectly and have never stepped out of line.

  27. @#30

    The town was (is) named “Antelope”. After the cult broke up, for years you’d see some desperate-looking folk wandering around Portland dressed in all red (the Rajneeshi dress code).

  28. Grimic,

    Almost maroon, actually. I shot a few games of 8 ball with a couple of them; an engineer and a chemist. I think maybe they got their degrees in a poolhall. Advanced degrees.

  29. #6 – Such as? Don’t expect us to do your oppo research for you. I can ASSURE you that Democrats do not hand out disinformation with the aim of scaring people away from the ballot box.

    I should have sent my kid to the University of South Carolina where he could have made the place just a teeny bit bluer. We still own a home down there where he could have lived rent-free.

  30. Bates233: “I am an undecided voter but am now swaying towards the republicans because I am worn out by the constant bias towards the rublicans I see.”

    Tell that to the thousands of innocent dead in Iraq. Will you take some responsibility for the thousands more deaths McCain’s election will cause? I’m not just talking about the “more wars” he celebrates, but even just his health care plan will result in thousands more American deaths.

  31. Flawless logic: I am so tired of all the negative news items I see about the KKK. Blah, blah, blah, Evil KKK; blah, blah, blah, the KKK is racist, blah, blah. It makes me want to join them!

    We are doomed.

  32. Yet another post where Cory took blogger speculation as fact and got it all wrong. Please try to follow a story before firing the cannon. It took me about 60 seconds to skim the NYTimes article and call BS on Taplin.

    Can’t speak for anyone else, but ever since the campaigns kicked into high gear, BB has been buried way down in greader. And guess what? I don’t Adblock BB, so you’re losing revenue.

    Not to mention the side effect of missing Mark and Pesco’s stuff.

  33. I’m curious if you agree with my theory about potential VT student voters. Those who would consider changing their registration, that is. Every vote counts, and if the district is close, a few dozen student votes could make a difference in either direction.

    Well, it’s just not true that most of the appointees there are Republican, or even appointed by Republicans. That’s a pretty big hole in your theory. :)

    I went to VT a bit, um, earlier than you. And the reason you could do that (move your registration from home to Blacksburg) was because during the time I was there a student sued for the right to do so. At the time students simply weren’t allowed to register in Blacksburg but were told to vote absentee in their home town.

    Oh, I don’t doubt that. While I was at VT, there was a similar kerfuffle in Williamsburg over student voting at W&M. I’m grateful to those who made it possible for me to vote, at college and elsewhere.

  34. The “similar kerfuffle in Williamsburg” was (and still is) a big deal.

    Up until about a year ago, W&M students living in Williamsburg were routinely denied the ability to register, or would show up at the polls to find their names mysteriously absent from the list of eligible voters.

    We have a new voter registrar now, which has improved things quite a bit. However, the city remains outwardly hostile toward students, the most egregious example being a low prohibiting more than three students from living under the same roof.


    (Disclaimer: I am an undergraduate at W&M, and a former staff member of the newspaper linked to above)

  35. I wrote about this for my college paper in 2000. There’s nothing new here- and it’s not about national politics, it’s about the local elections that will be decided on the same ballot.

    Full-time and long-time residents of small towns hosting large college campuses worry that swarming hordes of undereducated students who don’t give a darn about their local government will “screw up” the local races with reckless, uninformed ballot marking.

    In my town, this was manifested in large signs at the voter’s registration counter, warning that changing your place of residency could have dire consequences, such as requiring you to also change your driver’s license and vehicle registration, or, if you were from out of state, losing access to financial aid benefits granted by their home state.

    Students, of course, took this as an attempt to scare them out of registering to vote (which it was), locals insisted they were only trying to educate the students on the law (also true)… he push was to try to get students to register to vote “at home,” and by absentee ballot.

    It was still wrong, but it wasn’t a partisan effort- just parochial.

  36. @ BUDDY66

    That must’ve been one helluva conversation. You’re right, it definitely was more in the maroon range. And when pieces of clothing started fading, they turned pinkish.

    Kind of ironic, being in the Rose City and all.

  37. poor bastards. Think of what they were going through: walked away from lives to hand all their money over to the Margerine Ji for his sixty Rolls Royces – and then: the morning after.

  38. Wonder why we’re a bit jumpy? (Pseudo- or Anti- Dems about to turn Republican if you see another BB post about possible voter disenfranchisement or who complain they should just just stick to the non-political stuff and can’t find their spacebar with both hands, listen up.)

    The following is by highly respected investigative journalist Greg Palast, regarding the 2004 presidential election:

    Night of the Uncounted: How to Disappear Three Million Votes

    …First, consider CNN’s Ohio exit polls broadcast just after midnight after the voting ended on Election Day. They show John Kerry defeated George Bush among women voters by 53% to 47%. And among men voters, Kerry defeated Bush 51% to 49%.
    So here’s your question, class: What third sex put George Bush over the top in Ohio and gave him the White House?

    Answer: The Uncounted.

    In Ohio, there were 153,237 ballots simply thrown away, more than the Bush “victory” margin. In New Mexico the uncounted vote was fives times the Bush alleged victory margin of 5,988. In Iowa, Bush’s triumph of 13,498 was overwhelmed by 36,811 votes rejected. In all, over three million votes were cast but never counted in the 2004 presidential election. The official number is bad enough-1,855,827 ballots cast not counted, reported to the federal government’s Election’s Assistance Commission. But the feds are missing data from several cities and entire state’s too embarrassed to report the votes they failed to count. Correcting for the under-reporting of the undercount, the number of ballots cast but never counted goes to 3,600,380. And there are certainly more we couldn’t locate to tote up.

    Why doesn’t your government tell you this? Hey, they do. It’s right there in black-and-white on a U.S. Census Bureau announcement released seven months after the election-in a footnote to the report on voter turn-out. The Census tabulation of voters voting “differs,” from ballots tallied by the Clerk of the House of Representatives for the 2004 presidential race by 3.4 million votes.

    This is the hidden presidential count which, excepting the Census’ whispered footnote, has not been reported.

    Unfortunately, that’s not all. In addition to the 3 million ballots uncounted due to technical “glitches,” millions more were lost because the voters were prevented from casting their ballots in the first place. This group of un-votes includes voters illegally denied registration or wrongly purged from the registries.

    In the voting biz, most of these lost votes are called “spoilage.” Spoilage, not the voters, picked our president for us.

    Joe Stalin, the story goes, said, “It’s not the people who vote that count; it’s the people who count the votes.” That may have been true in the old Soviet Union, but in the U.S.A, the game is much, much subtler: He who makes sure votes don’t get counted decides our winners.

    In the lead-up to the 2004 race, millions of Americans were, not unreasonably, panicked about computer voting machines, “black boxes,” that could flip your vote from John Kerry to George Bush. Images abounded of an evil hacker-genius in Dick Cheney’s bunker rewriting code and zapping the totals. But that’s not how it went down. The computer scare was the McGuffin, the fake detail used by magicians to keep your eye off their hands. The new black boxes played their role, albeit minor, but the principal means of the election heist-voiding ballots, overwhelmingly of the poor and Black-went unexposed, unreported and most importantly, uncorrected and ready to roll out on a grander scale in 2008.

    I went to sleep election night with the exit polls showing Kerry ahead in swing states. But between 1:05 am and 6:41 am the next morning, goblins went to work. By dawn, the network’s exit poll for Ohio showed Kerry dead even with Bush among women, and down by five percentage points among men.

    What happened? Were thousands of Bush voters locked in the voting booths, released at 2am, then queried about their choices? Not quite. The network’s polling company applied a fancy “algorithm,” a mathematical magic wand, to slowly transform the exit polls to match the official count.

    And that’s bad. By deliberately contaminating the exit polls, the networks snuffed the canary that would signal that something was deeply wrong about the vote count.

    Hunting for a Democrat to defend the Twilight Zone between the exit polls and the “official” polls, media grabbed on Dick Morris, Bill Clinton’s old advisor. An expert at walking that fine line between minor criminality and psychopathic ambition, Morris knows which way his next client’s wind blows.

    Morris said:

    “Exit polls are almost never wrong. So reliable are the surveys that actually tap voters as they leave the polling places that they’re used as guides to the relative honesty of elections in Third World Countries. To screw up one exit poll is unheard of. To miss six of them is incredible.”

    His opening was promising, but then he switches into full Morris:

    “It boggles the imagination how pollsters could be that incompetent and invites speculation that more than honest error was at play here.”

    So, Dick, you’re telling us there was an evil cabal among six pollsters, competitors who don’t even like each other, conspiring one dark night to make George Bush look like a vote thief.

    There’s another explanation: Kerry won.

    We’ve got the body (the wounded elections), we’ve got the bullet holes (the missing votes), now where are the smoking guns? How does the GOP disappear the vote? And why do Democratic ballots spoil so much more readily than Republican ballots?

    How’s it done?

    But that little Bill O’Reilly in your head is screaming, Get over it; let’s move on already. That’s the point of investigation. What they tested in 2000 and practiced in 2004, they are preparing to roll out in 2008 big time…

    Sorry for Pasting so much of Greg’s fabulous book Armed Madhouse here, but this thread seemed to demand some facts from a professional and highly respected source. I suggest you check out the whole thing if you are interested.

    (Note to moderators, I don’t think Mr. Palast would object to this excerpt quoted here, which is featured on his linked website, it being just in time to publicize his ideas right before the election so that we might continue to be ever more vigilant in attempting to possibly prevent the 2008 election to be stolen like the previous two. However, If you feel it is not appropriate, please feel free to delete or redact it, etc. I’m just trying to get out the facts, folks.)

    Thanks for reading.

  39. Funny, I read Taplin’s article and saw a lot of “R” words and names in it. Those and the arrant FUD (even if more parochial than political) caused me to see “REPUBLICAN.” Voter suppression, whatever the motive, is associated these days more with the GOP than with the Democrats, even if historically the reverse was often true.

    That excerpt from Greg Palast’s book makes a valid point. To carry out something so fundamentally subversive of democracy as reversing a vote takes a concerted effort before, during and after the vote. By themselves, crooked voting machines would be immediately suspect. As a part of the above effort, the machines are small potatoes.

    The magic black boxes are easier to focus on than the rest of the chicanery. For some people, they justify not doing anything because “they” will just hack the result anyway. But one pollwatcher is worth two crooked Diebold machines. A flying squad of election lawyers and a hotline to election officials at all levels are worth 10.

  40. Does there exist, somewhere, a CC-style pamphlet or simple info piece, dispelling rumors about federal voting regulations in the U.S.? I’m wondering if someone who knows enough about the US system (Canadian and still have difficulties understanding US electoral system, or I’d attempt it myself) to make up one that could be distributed to colleges and targeted neighborhoods that counters some of these Republican misinformation campaigns going on? I mean, there were reports abound from 2004 of similar efforts made in minority neighborhoods to dissuade voters from registering, or from attending the polls at all…Honestly, I’m trying to think nonpartisan, so that those who are ignorant of the requirements for voting in the presidential election can get the information, regardless of who their candidate of choice is.

    Any ideas? Resources? A grassroots effort to clarify voter registration misinformation could go a LONG way to enabling disenfranchised voters, imho.

  41. @60 & 61: Good points. I don’t know of such a resource, but it’s a very good idea and should be embraced, at the very least by the party that had the last two elections stolen by such shenanigans. Palast’s book goes on to describe such instances in detail. Certain poor neighborhoods where they close polls so people have no choice but to travel longer distances and sometimes wait in line for 9, 10, 11 hours just to be able to vote. Not many in poorer areas can afford the gas or the time to sit around all day. Though employers are supposed to give time away from work for voting on election day, nothing mandates hourly employees get paid for this time. Absentee or early votes just seem to have more likelihood of being disqualified, based on race or income demographics. What we need is a streamlining of the process (and I don’t mean electronic) and greater accountability inserted into the system.

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