Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Speculation about Civil, Criminal Misdeeds Abounds about Student Voting in District 4

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Speculation about Civil, Criminal Misdeeds Abounds about Student Voting in District 4

Article excerpt

In the six weeks prior to the Aug. 16 voter registration deadline, more than 300 residents joined the voter rolls in Tuscaloosa's District 4.

The district consists of much of downtown, the residential historic districts north of 15th Street and all of the University of Alabama.

With the university comes students -- more than 33,000 as of last year -- and new voters. Of those who registered to vote in the final six weeks, more than 80 listed an address that is on campus such as Magnolia Drive, also known as Sorority Row.

The 2013 municipal election was held Tuesday, less than a month after students were allowed to begin moving in to their on-campus residence buildings.

District 4 incumbent Board of Education member Kelly Horwitz, 45, was defeated by 26-year-old challenger Cason Kirby, last a student on the UA campus in 2012, by 72 votes -- 399-327.

City and state law require anyone who casts a ballot in a local jurisdiction to have lived in that district for at least 30 days.

But when it comes to ensuring that all voters have met that requirement, the role of enforcement is not clear.

The role of the Secretary of State's office, through the Board of Registrars, is to enforce the voter registration deadline, which is always 10 days before the election, while not allowing anyone who signs up after that date to qualify as a voter in the election.

Sarah McFarland, a registrar in the local office, said the Board of Registrars sends a list of all voters who registered prior to the deadline to City Hall and that it is the city's role to enforce the 30-day residency rule.

But City Clerk and 2013 municipal election manager Tracy Croom said it is not the city's responsibility to determine whether a voter lived here at least 30 days.

In fact, she said, it's nobody's job.

"We don't test residency," Croom said. "Nobody tests residency. When I get a list from the Secretary of State, we don't test one name on there."

The only time the question is decided is when an election is contested in state judicial system. Then, the local Circuit Court has the authority to determine when each individual registered voter established residency in a particular location.

When a similar question was posed before former Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court Judge Robert B. Harwood in 1997, he ruled that students only had to live in Tuscaloosa for 30 days. This meant that last year's freshman could vote without penalty in this year's election.

These legal questions are civil in nature, but some questions raised over the 2013 municipal election could rise to the level of criminal charges.

Ed Packard, director of elections for the Alabama Secretary of State, said two matters -- allegations of nine students lying about their University Circle residency and a sorority's offer of free booze in exchange for voting -- had been sent to the state Attorney General to determine whether they are worth of investigation. …

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