If a college student who lives on campus at Clemson University wants to register to vote in Pickens County, they can just fill out a voter registration form and list their campus housing as their legal residence. Same with students at the University of South Carolina or the College of Charleston or any number of colleges in South Carolina.
But not in Greenville County.
If a college student who lives on campus at Furman University or Greenville Technical College or Bob Jones University or North Greenville University wants to register to vote in Greenville County, they’re more than likely out of luck.
That’s because those students must complete an 11-question form with answers that satisfy the county’s Board of Voter Registration and Elections. If they don’t return the form within 10 days, the board will reject their registration. If they don’t answer every question correctly with enough information to establish their residence in Greenville, the board will reject their registration.
Greenville County Voter Registration sends that form to every college student who attempts to register in the county using a campus address, Conway Belangia, the county’s director of voter registrations, told The Greenville News.
The additional questions are required, he said, under a 1973 federal district court ruling, Dyer vs. Huff, that bars the county Voter Registration and Elections office from allowing college students who list their address as a college campus from registering to vote in the county, Belangia said.
“We are following the guidelines of that court ruling requesting students, especially on campus students at any of the institutes of higher learning, to answer the questions that were provided to us in that federal court ruling,” Belangia said.
The questionnaire asks students to detail where their parents live (regardless of whether the student claims that as their legal residence), where their vehicle is registered, whether they work in Greenville County, whether they have other ties to the community, if they’ve ever registered to vote anywhere else, where their spouse lives (if married), where they have checking or savings accounts, where they pay taxes, whether they split living between Greenville and another location, and what residence they list on official documents.
Three Furman University students filed a lawsuit in Greenville County’s 13th Judicial Circuit on Wednesday that asks the court to throw out the county’s voter registration policies for on-campus students. The students have asked for a temporary injunction to force the county to stop using the questionnaire the students called “invasive” and to allow them to register to vote in the General Election on Nov. 8.
An initial hearing is scheduled for Oct. 6.
The State Election Commission trains county voter registration directors to treat college students like every other citizen of the state when they register to vote, said Chris Whitmire, State Election Commission spokesman.
The lawsuit names as defendants Belangia, the Greenville County Board of Voter Registration and Elections, the South Carolina State Election Commission and Marci Andino, the state election commission’s executive director.
Since it’s now involved in the legal process, Whitmire said the commission’s staff attorney advised him not to comment on the case, but he said “we want every eligible citizen in the state to be able to register and to vote. And we want every voter to be treated equally under the law. We train county election officials to register all voters by the same procedure.”
In neighboring Pickens County, Rodney Allen, executive director of Pickens County Voter Registration and Elections, said they have hundreds of Clemson students who register to vote.
“State procedure is that students are allowed to register to vote either at their parents address or they can register to vote in the county where they’re living at when they’re going to college,” Allen said.
Pickens has no extra questionnaires for students because “state procedure is that no one is treated differently.”
Belangia said he’s aware other counties in the state operate differently, but the court ruling was specific to Greenville County.
Greenville County has sent the same form to college students for at least the 24 years Belangia has worked for the voter registration office and likely longer, Belangia said.
He said the county would continue to abide by the court ruling and send questionnaires unless another court ruled differently. The court ruling, along with a state attorney general’s opinion initially issued in 1984 and updated in 2001, spells out the types of questions election commission’s may ask to prove the legitimacy of a college student’s listed legal residence on their voter registration application, he said.
“It’s hard to claim a residence hall or student housing as a permanent legal address,” Belangia said.
Those questions likely mean no on-campus college students at Furman have successfully registered to vote, said Glen Halva-Neubauer, a Furman political science professor who is familiar with the lawsuit.
Greenville County’s policy of rejecting on-campus voter registration applicants pre-dates even the 1973 court ruling because it pitted four students also from Furman against Walter Huff, Greenville County’s director of voter registrations at the time, because they'd been denied voter registration because of their status as college students living on campus.
The Greenville district court judge at the time, Robert Foster Chapman, ruled against their request. And the law hasn’t been challenged again until now.
Register to vote:
The final day to register to vote in the Nov. 8 General Election is Oct. 8.
If registering or updating voter registration information by mail, the envelope must be postmarked by Oct. 8, Belangia said. Since Oct. 8 is a Saturday, Belangia said residents may need to plan to have it postmarked by Oct. 7 because the post office doesn’t always postmark items on Saturdays.
Residents can also drop off voter registration forms at the Voter Registration and Elections office at County Square, 301 University Ridge, by 1 p.m. on Oct. 8.
Residents who wish to register to vote online must do so by midnight Oct. 8, he said.
Here are some simple steps voters can take to get ready to vote in the General Election, according to the State Election Commission:
- Register to Vote — Online voter registration is available at scVOTES.org.
- Check your registration at scVOTES.org — Make sure your registration is active and your address is up to date.
- Update your address — You can update your address using online voter registration.
- Review your sample ballot — Review your sample ballot at scVOTES.org so you are ready to vote once you get to the booth
- Make sure you bring proper ID
Here's what voters need to know about Photo ID:
- If you are registered to vote and already have a driver's license, a DMV ID, a passport, or a federal military ID, you are ready to vote. Be sure to bring your Photo ID with you to the polls.
- If you don't have one of those photo IDs, you can help streamline your voting process by getting one before Election Day. You can get a free Photo ID from your county elections office or any DMV location.
- If you can't get a Photo ID before Election Day, be sure to bring your non-photo voter registration card with you to the polls. This will allow you to sign an affidavit stating you had an impediment to obtaining a Photo ID. You can then vote a provisional ballot that will count, unless your affidavit is proven to be false.