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March 16, 2005

Students are legally entitled to vote in the district in which their dorm rooms are located; challenges to BU students may have been baseless

As we reported yesterday, a number of Boston University students who had registered to vote in order to participate in yesterday's primary in the Suffolk 18th special election were subjected to challenges when they arrived at their polling place, and at least a few of them were prevented from voting.  [UPDATE: Mike Jervis of the BU College Democrats tells me that of the 48 voters at the precinct serving BU students, 6 cast provisional ballots (meaning that they were challenged so that their eligibility must be determined later) and 5-10 did not vote at all (possibly because they left after being challenged and never returned).  Jervis also said that the challengers were issuing challenges to virtually every person that walked into the precinct, except during times when the precinct was busy enough that they couldn't get to everyone.]

The challenges appear to have been at the instigation of Bart McCauley and the Ward 22 Democratic Committee, which issued this press release criticizing Tim Schofield's efforts to register BU students.  I've now had a little bit of time to do further research, and it turns out that much of the press release's contents are wildly inaccurate.  Read on...

  • "I know that even though students lay their heads in dorm rooms at night, the dorms are generally not homes for purposes of voting."  This is totally wrong.  In fact, college students in Massachusetts routinely register to vote in Massachusetts by giving their dorm room as their address.  The Massachusetts chapter of the non-partisan League of Women Voters encourages the practice on their web site, and the person I spoke to today in the Secretary of State's Elections Division confirmed that it's OK: college students may, and do, register to vote from their college residences all the time.  Also, this summary affirmance by the US Supreme Court supports the notion that allowing college students to register from their college address is constitutionally required [thanks to stomv's comment below for the pointer].  I have no idea where McCauley got his information, but it is not correct.
  • "I have no doubt that most of these young people have real homes elsewhere.  Many of them have automobiles registered at their homes elsewhere.... [M]any of them are receiving financial aid from their home states' higher education authorities elsewhere.  Receipt of such state funds is usually conditioned on maintaining legal residence in the state giving the money.  In these situations, registering to vote from a BU address would be wrong."  Again, this is totally wrong.  Where students' parents live, where their cars are registered, and where they receive financial aid from, have absolutely no bearing on their eligibility to register to vote in MA.  Again: if you lay your head on a pillow located in a BU dorm, you are perfectly entitled to declare that dorm your "residence" for voting purposes.  The League of Women voters does note that registering to vote in MA can raise financial aid eligibility issues from the students' states of origin.  But that is a matter for individual students to worry about - it has nothing to do with a student's eligibility to vote in MA.
  • "Mr. Schofield should inform these young people of the potential legal issues with fraudulent voter registrations and ask them not to vote."  Ridiculous.  There can be no claim that registering students at their college addresses is somehow "fraudulent."  To the contrary, it is an accepted and legally acceptable practice.  Any student who filled out the form correctly and on time was validly registered, and there is no reason that such a student shouldn't vote.
  • "Legitimate voters, who make their real homes in Allston-Brighton and Brookline, should not have the weight of their ballots reduced because of illegitimate voting at the Boston University dorms."  This is totally outrageous.  There is nothing "illegitimate" about students registering to vote from their dorm address - again, it happens all the time.  The idea that students voting from their dorm rooms is somehow "illegitimate" is deeply offensive to the idea that every citizen has the right to vote in the district in which they are legally registered.

In short, it appears that this press release and the challenges that accompanied it were nothing more than a scare tactic, quite similar to one used by Republicans in past elections.  (See this article, which reports that "students in the university town of Durham [NH] turned out to vote in 2002, only to receive a handout from election proctors laced with scare tactics, including the warning that they could jeopardize their financial aid by voting at an address other than their permanent home.")

How shocking.  A local committee of Democrats tries to scare other Democrats away from the polls with trumped-up legal claims about residency that the simplest inquiry - such as calling the Secretary of State's office - would show to be false.  It's no goddamn wonder we've failed to win back the Governor's office for the last four elections.  Any party that turns itself into a circular firing squad like this doesn't deserve to win an election for dog-catcher.  I have asked the state party for comment, and will post again if I hear back from them.

Posted by David at 04:22 PM in Massachusetts | Permalink


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Tracked on Mar 16, 2005 10:21:04 PM


You might do well to look up the SCOTUS decision (in the 70s IIRC) regarding precisely this issue.

Posted by: stomv | Mar 16, 2005 4:30:42 PM

Learn from this. Be careful of sounding like sour grapes. Take a breather, David. You got outflanked by an attack you were told was coming and didn't prepare for. I do not think the challenges cost the election. Move on from this topic, it is a red herring that makes you guys sound like tight ass cry babies. Don't fall into that trap.

Posted by: The troll | Mar 16, 2005 4:50:03 PM

Dear troll,
I've agreed with you in the past, and have said so. But I disagree with you on this - not because I think these challenges could have swayed the election, but because I really hated it when Republicans were pulling out the stops to pose baseless challenges to Democratic voters in 04 (a subject on which I did a good deal of legal work during the campaign), and I hate it even more when those challenges come from within the Democratic party. It's fine to challenge voters if there's a good faith basis for thinking that they're ineligible to vote. But there is no good faith basis for arguing that a college student cannot legitimately vote from his or her college address, as the Ward 22 Democratic Committee should certainly have known. Baseless challenges are a form of voter intimidation. It's wrong, and those who engage in it should be called to account. Whether it could have affected the result is secondary.

Posted by: David | Mar 16, 2005 5:08:35 PM

The issue here is not this election. To me the issue is that a Democratic Ward Committee is discouraging eligible voters from voting in a Democratic primary. Forget about Tim -- this hurts the MA Dem party and sends the message that this is closed club, to students, no less.

This should be used as a basis for a campaign to oust as many Ward 22 members as possible -- I'd be checking Dem party by-laws here. There are things you cannot do and still hold a ward committee position. You'll likely not find anything, but who knows.

Posted by: Noho-missives | Mar 16, 2005 5:10:41 PM

Noho's on target.

The Demorcatic party has a big tent, and encouraging a sound democratic process must take priority over bitter local politics. Tim Schofield will be fine, and I suspect (and hope!) that he'll run for office again, and soon.

The bigger picture is that a bunch of kids who wanted to support Democrats as part of the democratic process were systematically hassled by Democrats. It's inexcusable in general, and unfathomable within our own party.

I don't know much about the so-called Ward 22 Democratic Committee, but I do know that I would be willing to work hard to change the opinion or the authority of Bart McCauley, and I hope that Mike Moran weighs in on this issue.

Posted by: stomv | Mar 16, 2005 6:47:44 PM

Dear David,
You talk as if being a Democrat is like being an Orthodox Jew. This is a political party, not a religion. The key word is political. There is no brotherhood among democratic opponents, and why should there be?. Your expectations are very naive. Confucius say “If man stick head in lion’s cage and lion bite it off, is lion an asshole?”

Next time I suggest you have your own people presenting challenges at the polls. (Don't you think people who no longer live in district but register out of relatives house came back to vote for Moran - well they did) And have defense at precincts where you expect trouble. Again, you guys knew something was up and didn’t do anything to defend. should have ben there on the get go.

Why do you guys care about who controls the party. Elected officials are put in office by un-enrolled voters. Would you rather win elections or be part of a party hierarchy that has no real power. Screw the state democratic party. Go around them. To win elections you have to appeal to others besides "progressive voters" and the party continues to make it difficult to do that. If you talk too much about progressive litmus test issues - gay marriage, gay marriage, gay marriage and, oh yeah, abortion, and sometimes education if it is in line precisely with the teachers' union position(which arguably this blog could sometimes be indicted for)you are easily labeled a left wing nut, and this turns off the silent majority. Other than education, these issues are at the bottom of the vast majority of voters’ concerns.

If you can get elected locally (state rep)and take care of constituents and district needs, be liked personally and be effective you can carry the torch for any and all of the "progressive objectives". Your more conservative constituents will let it slide and still vote for you.

Posted by: The Troll | Mar 16, 2005 9:08:28 PM

I meant to say elected officials are put in office by the silent majority

Posted by: ThebTroll | Mar 16, 2005 9:27:01 PM

Bart McCauley is an angry little man. Make no mistake Mr Mccauley was a Glennon supporter. The only vote that Glennon got from the ward 22 committee. I bet that the ward 22 committe has no idea of what Mccauley sent out. The BU democratic Com should see if they can come to a ward 22 meeting and ask Mr McCauley why he sent out the press release. Just an idea.

Posted by: sam | Mar 16, 2005 9:59:04 PM

If you live in Ward 22, and up for trying to clean up Ward 22, get some folks on your side:

Who knows? If three people show up and give 'em hell, then they'll think it's an organization.


Posted by: Charley on the MTA | Mar 16, 2005 10:38:41 PM


You seem to be missing the point. We all understand that what McCauley pulled was gamesmanship, in an effort to swing the election in a way he percieved as favorable.

What we're arguing is that it was wrong on a higher level. Either he knew his claims were false, or he is grossly unqualified for his position. His actions were no different in principle than the GOP going around to black neighborhoods and posting signs saying that the election has been postponed until November 4. Both were blatant targeted voter supression, and both are equally morally wrong.

Primaries should be competitive -- but we should never lose sight of the values of democracy, fairness, and ethics in a power grab.

Posted by: stomv | Mar 17, 2005 7:37:50 AM

you seem surprised that there are people who did that. Move on.

Posted by: The troll | Mar 17, 2005 8:15:27 AM

One more thing stormy.
"...grossly unqualified for his position"

Have you seen the mafority of people who are local democratic party offcials/ In a nut shell LOSERS

Posted by: The Troll | Mar 17, 2005 8:39:05 AM


1. It's stomv. No 'r'.
2. I'm not suprised. I'm frustrated.
3. I refuse to cast a net claiming that "the mafority [sic]" are losers. I prefer to determine that one loser at a time.

Posted by: stomv | Mar 17, 2005 9:30:35 AM

Troll, Comparing Ward 22 actions against LEGAL VOTERS to challenging Moran's friends who VOTED ILLEGALLY is completely missing the point.

Legal challenges are fine, I have no problem with that -- but when a Democratic party official makes an illegal challenge (there was no basis for a challenge even if we stipulate their claim 100%) then that person is hurting the party and should be expunged.

Most of the rest of your rant has nothing to do with this issue.

The Democratic party is a joke in Massachusetts because we let this happen. Yes, we should have good candidates - yes, we should have a large tent, and contested primaries and make the case to our party members that a particular candidate would be good for their community.

But we should not stop people from participating in our party process -- that hurts the party. A student who was turned away from voting may never come back.

Posted by: Noho-missives | Mar 17, 2005 9:49:48 AM

Noho, there are no legal challenges or illegal challenges. There are only challenges. The precint warden decides. Forget about this guy and his "illegal challenges". Take problem up with elections department for allowing his challenge.
And again...Schofield camp was told this was coming. Shame on them.

Posted by: the troll | Mar 17, 2005 10:02:23 AM

Bart was dumped as W22 chair many years ago, I have no doubt that few others knew about or participated in this effort, particularly Moran, who had the support of Steve Tolman, not one of Black Bart's favorites.

Posted by: jpdem | Mar 17, 2005 12:07:02 PM

Troll: you're really missing the point, and repeatedly, but in an interesting way, I think. You're promoting what I consider to be a very right-wing point of view about what elections are supposed to be: games, in which the point is to win. Analogies to sports, or war, or games. Whoever plays best, deserves to win, if their tactics work.

The liberal view is quite different: The reason we have elections, is to have better government, maximize political participation, and guage the people's preferences. If you hold this view, then challenging voters for tactical gain, to depress turnout, is WRONG. As simple as that. Whoever engages in that kind of activity is inherently the bad guy, for doing it. Talking about how well it worked or didn't work, whether other candidates were properly prepared, or should have been, and so on, is entirely irrelevant.

I, and most Democrats, believe the liberal view of elections is RIGHT and the right-wing conception is WRONG.

So, the things you're focusing on in your comments, are just coming out of left field for us. They don't address the issue at all. And I don't think you see it, because you're treating elections as games.

Posted by: Cos | Mar 18, 2005 12:43:54 AM

The Troll: "Noho, there are no legal challenges or illegal challenges. There are only challenges. The precint warden decides."

Actually, you're wrong. That used to be the case back when William Rehnquist led his gangs of anti-voting activists to challenge minority voters and depress turnout. Challenges were widely abused to discourage or prevent legitimate voters from voting - which is exactly what happened in Allston on Tuesday - until the Voting Rights Act put a stop to it. It became a federal crime to challenge a voter unless you honestly believe the voter is fraudulent AND you have solid EVIDENCE to back that up.

So, yes, there's a pretty strong case to make that these challenges were illegal. The only other possibility is that they were astonishingly stupid and really believed students aren't supposed to be allowed to vote where they go to school - but that excuse should have vanished the first time they were able to prove that someone was a student from out of state and that student was allowed to vote. Any further challenges from that point forward would have been clearly criminal.

Even Kenneth Blackwell, of all people, threatened vote challengers in Ohio with prosecution if they challenged voters without solid proof - which dissuaded almost all the challenges the Ohio Republicans were preparing to make.

Posted by: Cos | Mar 18, 2005 1:16:43 AM

Two things Coz.
1. Is that the best you can do? Call me a right wing nut because I see this challeneging issue as a dog bites man issue. But if you insist on labeling people ecause the t disagree, go ahead.
2. You are right as about fed voter rights law. But. this was stae election, not federal. That law only applies to fed elctions. CVongress and president. So youbar wrong. No crime committed here. Check the Mass General Laws

Posted by: The Trol | Mar 18, 2005 8:30:56 AM

one more thing
i do not promote what was done re: challengers. It is just that i am not surprised. I probably have been around longer then you and seen more campaigns. You act like you just discovered there are some dishonest people in politics. Perhaps a little experience will enlighten you. And that is why i am disappointed in schifield camp. They were told therse challengers were coming and did nothing. If this telegraphed incident was not anticipated, then perhaps schofield does not have the instincts to make it in the rough and tumble world of beacon hill politics. Perhaps he is not street smart enough and DiMasi would have eaten him for lunch. But, we will never know.

Posted by: THe troll | Mar 18, 2005 8:38:09 AM

At the troll's invitation, I did check the Mass. General Laws. I could find only two statutes on voter challenges (there may be more - anyone?). GL c. 54, s. 85A allows party-appointed challengers to challenge "any voter" at the polling place, and GL c. 54, s. 85 refers to a voter who is challenged for "any legal cause."

So, as is often the case in the Mass. General Laws, it's ambiguous. The challenger statute (s. 85A) doesn't appear to impose even a "good faith" requirement - perhaps a court would read one in in light of the constitutional values at stake, but it's not in the statute. On the other hand, s. 85 does refer to "legal cause," and one could read into that a requirement that the challenger have at least a good faith belief that the voter was attempting to vote illegally. But it's far from clear.

I'd suggest that the representative for this district - most likely Michael Moran - be asked, as one of his first actions, to file a bill clarifying that voter challenges must have a good faith basis, and imposing criminal penalties for knowingly posing baseless challenges.

As to whether the Schofield campaign should have been ready for this: I don't know when they first found out about the possibility of challenges (I only heard about it at about 6:30 pm on election day), but if they indeed had advance warning, then it would have behooved them to have had observers armed with relevant legal authority at the BU polling place. As I said earlier, I did a lot of work in the 04 campaign preparing for Republican challenges (baseless or otherwise) at the polling places, and that effort was largely successful because we were ready. I don't always agree with the troll's hard-nosed realist take on things, but I do appreciate his perspective.

Posted by: David | Mar 18, 2005 10:52:04 AM

Thanks david, a discussion for perhaps another time is your suggesdtion that perhaps a court could infer a good faith intention must be present. This is disturbinbg for a coutrt to find such a thing with no legislative intent. A little too much judicial activism for my taste. Especially to make it criminal. Chilling. Very chilling. Basicly that meand \s if you challenge, you better be right.

Posted by: the troll | Mar 18, 2005 11:53:34 AM

state regs detail procedures for challenges.

Posted by: The Troll | Mar 18, 2005 11:55:40 AM

I stand corrected about MA law, it unfortunately is not as clear as federal law. That is indeed a problem. However...

Especially to make it criminal. Chilling. Very chilling. Basicly that means if you challenge, you better be right.

... does that imply that you find the Voting Rights Act "chilling"?

It means if you challenge, you'd better believe you're right, and have solid evidence to back it up. You might turn out to be wrong, and that's okay - as long as you did your work, in good faith, and brought the evidence to back up your claim. Nothing chilling about that. What's chilling is the use of spurious challenges to depress turnout, and that's what we had here.

Secondly, please drop it about "disappointment with the campaign" about not being prepared. I don't know how many times or how clearly I have to say it: THAT'S NOT WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT. You insist on framing this as some sort of game between campaigns, where what matters is who played better. I find that view alien. I'm not concerned that this altered the outcome of the election - I stated up front that I don't think it did. I'm also not saying that it couldn't have been forseen, or that it never happens - I clearly referred to cases where it has happened before.

What I'm saying is that it's dirty, wrong, should not be done, hurts the party, hurts the political process and general, and we need to express shock about it every single time it happens. Not because it has never happened before, but because it is dirty, wrong, and shocking each time it happens.

You somehow seem incapable of believing me, that this is a moral issue separate from how it affected any particular candidate. No matter what I say, you continue to pretend that I'm upset specifically because I think my favored candidate was hurt by it, and I'm sour about the results. You sound a lot like the people who pretend that anyone talking about election reform nationall, and expresses concern about the right to vote and the right of votes to be counted, is really just failing to acknowledge that Bush beat Kerry, and they should all just move on. Why can't you acknowledge that this is actually a problem, and take what I say at face value?Is it because you disagree, and think tactical voter challenging is a fine practice that people should engage in whenever they can get an advantage from it?
If so, please actually defend that practice, and explain why you support it, rather than trying to deflect the argument by calling "sour grapes"?
Or is it because you really, honestly, just can't believe that I'm saying what I mean and mean what I say, and you're sure the only reason I'm even talking about it is because I'm upset that the candidate I favored lost a few votes?
If that's the case, state it clearly, and I'll just drop it. No point in discussing anything with someone who has their own conclusions about what I think, regardless of what I say.

P.S. yes, we apparently do need a better law to make it possible to prosecute people who engage in this behavior. I will be contacting Moran about that, as well as some other reps.

Posted by: Cos | Mar 18, 2005 1:05:42 PM

All i know about this portion of the fed voting rights act is what i read here. Yes, i find that portion of it chilling, very chilling.
A good precinct warden can prevent this. It hasn't been a problem. Your case is the exception that proves the rule. To legislate good faith, and make it criminal is chilling. This is an isolated incident that effected you personally and so you want to kill a mosquito with a nuclear bomb. A political motivated and uncaring prosecutoir could abuse this. How do u prove bad faith. Or worse , how does the accused, who maybe associated with an unpopular position or group in particular locations, (say... i don't know...gay mariage) prove that he acted in good faith. Chilling, very chilling.
The system we have works.
P.S. Can someone tell me how many votes were cast in this infamous precinct.

Posted by: The troll | Mar 18, 2005 1:33:57 PM

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