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Charlottesville voter registration higher than past two presidential election cycles

Student groups make bipartisan effort to maximize registration before Oct. 17 deadline

Active voter registration in Charlottesville, nearly a month from the presidential election, is currently greater than it has been in the past two presidential elections on Election Day.

As of Oct. 1, there were 27,504 active registered voters in Charlottesville City — an increase of 3,037 voters just since January.

Charlottesville General Registrar Rosanna Bencoach attributed the rapid rise in registration to an increase in the population of eligible voters and the return of students, some of whom have led a drive to ramp up registration prior to this particular election.

“There’s been a big push to get folks to register online,” Bencoach said. “I think there’s a lot of interest in this election.”

It is unclear how many of these newly registered voters are University students, Bencoach said. However, the majority of those newly registered voters in Virginia are under the age of 25 — the demographic in which many college students and newly eligible voters fall.

“The numbers of new registrants in that age group were also very high prior to the March 1 presidential primary,” Bencoach said. “That’s when there’s the most interest in registering — before a heavily promoted election.”

Another factor in the increase in the pool of eligible voters comes from efforts by the governor’s office to restore voting rights to felons.

In July, the Supreme Court of Virginia struck down Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s April attempt at restoring voting rights en masse, and the governor is currently working on individually restoring the voting rights of over 13,000 interested felons.

Bencoach said her office has been communicating with Katie Brandon, head of UVAVotes and the Electoral Engagement Task Force for faculty and students, to coordinate registration training for various student groups on Grounds.

Brandon, a third-year College student and co-chair of Student Council’s Legislative Affairs Committee, said UVAVotes had registered about 200 students in person and more online.

She also said the University Democrats played a significant role in raising that number even higher.

“The [University Democrats] have done a fantastic job with nonpartisan registration, and I'm incredibly grateful for their work,” Brandon said in an email statement.

Both the University Democrats and the College Republicans have been registering students since receiving the Registrar’s training.

University Democrats President Sam Tobin, a fourth-year College student, said the club has registered a few hundred voters.

“We knew from the beginning that we had to start as early as possible to get as many folks registered as possible,” Tobin said.

Tobin said the University Democrats have made a point of registering voters because its members believe in the power of democratic participation.

“We feel it’s our obligation to make sure that our fellow classmates have as much of a say as possible and register to vote,” Tobin said.

Adam Kimelman, a second-year College student and vice chairman of campaigns for the College Republicans, said the goal of the College Republican’s registration drive was bipartisan in nature.

“There’s a general purpose and higher standard to just try to get as many people registered as possible and get as many people to vote as possible, regardless of whether or not they’re going to vote for Republican candidates,” Kimelman said.

Kimelman estimated College Republicans has registered about 100 students, and said he anticipates registering more in the coming weeks.

He said the College Republicans’ strategy was to start registering people within the organization itself but to also reach out to the wider University community, especially as the group participates in bipartisan events in the coming weeks.

“We obviously want to make sure that all of our members are registered just because that’s easy,” Kimelman said.

Tobin said he believes the election’s importance is one reason for the increase in voter registration.

“I think young people and students at U.Va. realize the stakes of this election and are registering accordingly,” Tobin said.

Another factor in the increased registration is the ease of being able to register online, Kimelman said, as well as a heightened social media presence for promoting registration.

“It also is a definitely big election coming up — not just in terms of president, but below that, in terms of senate races and house races, all across the country,” Kimelman said. “I think that and the fact that the election is getting more press than usual probably has some role.”

Tobin said another reason the University Democrats has made a point of registering voters is that many students receive misinformation about registration.

“Unless you are politically active yourself, or have politically active friends, you might not know,” Tobin said.

One of the misconceptions, Tobin said, is that a voter can just show up to the polls.

“Oct. 17 is the [voter registration] deadline,” Tobin said. “It’s very important that people know that’s the deadline, and that as a matter of fact, you can’t vote if you don’t register by then.”

Additionally, Tobin said the rules of re-registration do not just apply to a move from Massachusetts to Alaska — they also apply to a move from Wertland Street to Jefferson Park Avenue.

“Any time you move addresses, you need to re-register,” Tobin said. “[This campaign has] been to register second-years and third-years and fourth-years who move, who don’t know that they have to re-register.”

Most of the University is in Albemarle County, not Charlottesville, and as a result, UVA students living in the city are eligible to vote absentee, Bencoach said. 

"All U.Va. students who are registered in the city of Charlottesville are eligible to vote absentee, and we encourage them to come down here and vote absentee in person and avoid the lines on Election Day," she said.

Bencoach said her office will be open for registration from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 15, the last Saturday before the registration deadline on Oct. 17.

“[This] is something that this office has not done in many, many years,” she said. “Probably since back when the deadline was on Saturday.”

Accessibility of registration in the city accommodates the push for registration on Grounds.

Correction: This article previously stated incorrectly that students living on-Grounds were able to vote absentee in the city of Charlottesville. Students living on-Grounds are registered to vote in Albemarle County