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Campus Crackdown: Fox News Attacks Student Voter Registration Effort

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The 2004 election is expected to see a record number of people registering to vote. But when some feminist groups at the University of Arizona kicked off a campus voter registration campaign, Fox News charged that they were aiding out-of-state students in committing felony voter fraud. [includes rush transcript]

As the November election draws nearer, get out the vote campaigns are intensifying across the country. Many analysts predict that an unprecedented number of people will register to vote. But here in Arizona, a group of students at the university charge that they are being harassed for encouraging students to register. Late last month, students in the Women’s Studies honorary society, in conjunction with the Feminist Majority Foundation, gathered on the lawn of the University of Arizona registering voters. They called the drive “Suffrage 2004.” They were engaging in an activity that is common on many campuses nationwide. In recent weeks on the Arizona campus, the college Democrats, Republicans and student government had run similar drives. But this one was different. As the students gathered on the lawn doing voter registration, the local Fox News affiliate pulled up to the site and with cameras rolling accused the students of engaging in felony voter fraud. The Fox reporters charged that Arizona law prohibits students from out of state from registering to vote in Arizona. For their part, the students say they had consulted with the local registrar on voter law before they picked up the registration forms and insisted that state law requires only that someone live in the state for 29 days before the election.

  • Kelly Kraus is president of the University of Arizona Network of Feminist Student Activists. The network is an affiliate of the Feminist Majority Foundation. She has led efforts at the University of Arizona to register students to vote.
  • Sarah Ransom is with the National Lawyers Guild Student Chapter at the University of Arizona.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Kelly Kraus who is president of the University of Arizona Network of Feminist Student Activists. The network is an affiliate of the Feminist Majority Foundation and we’re joined by Sarah Ransom is with the National Lawyers Guild Student Chapter at the University of Arizona. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

SARAH RANSOM: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Kelly, let’s start with you. Describe what happened. When were you doing this?

SARAH RANSOM: August 31, we were holding the event. Our goal was to register young women, and we spent the day out on the University Of Arizona Mall. It was a great success. We registered over 130 students. We were packing up and the Fox News crew came and told us we were encouraging students to commit a felony by registering students to vote. It was unfortunate because of the hard work of those involved and the excitement of the students was tainted by the information.

AMY GOODMAN: They were accusing you of helping students commit a crime by doing what?

SARAH RANSOM: By registering them to vote in Arizona. The law says you have to have physical intent 29 days before the election and the intent to remain. The registrar of voters was interpreting that you had to intend on being in Arizona after you graduate from college.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip of the registrar, Chris Roads.

CHRIS ROADS: You’re only here to attend school and their intention was to immediately return where they came from when school is over. They’re not residents of the State of Arizona for voting purposes and they cannot register to vote here.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Chris Roads, the registrar. Sarah Ransom, can you explain what it is he said, because there have been developments since then.

SARAH RANSOM: Yes. What I was essentially claiming was that if you are a student, then you are — basically, if you are from out of state, you are a temporary resident and therefore, you cannot vote or else when you sign the voter registration document, you will be committing fraud because you will be claiming to be a resident of Arizona. I mean, I also volunteered to register students to vote, and I was disturbed. So, I went and checked into this assertion and it took me about 20 minutes to realize that everything that Fox News was saying and what Chris Roads was saying was actually completely contrary to what the state of the law is in the National Presidential Election.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the law?

SARAH RANSOM: The law is very clear. It’s actually one of the areas where it’s pretty hard to find ambiguity. In 1970, the federal congress passed the Voting Rights Act Amendment. It explicitly abolishes the durational residency requirement.

AMY GOODMAN: Durational residency. What’s that?

SARAH RANSOM: That’s different from residency for voting. A durational residency requirement is, let’s say in this situation, a student from Oregon like myself, comes to the University of Arizona and for the first year, you have to — in order to get in state tuition, you have to prove to the state that you want to live there. You have to pay taxes and register your car. You have to get an Arizona driver’s license. That’s what Congress abolished. They found that to be an undue burden on the fundamental right of the students to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: You don’t have to do all of that?

SARAH RANSOM: No. It was upheld by the Supreme Court. States didn’t like this, because states have traditionally been able to control requirements for voter registration and they tried to do this and the Supreme Court in Oregon v. Mitchell held that in a national Presidential Election in order to mobilize the national citizenry to vote, you need to have uniform requirements. And age requirements, it should be 18 uniformly across the country to comport with the 26th Amendment and also a durational residency requirement is inappropriate. Rather, you simply have to be a citizen of the state.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how did this all go down. Fox did a national report? Was it national, local, or regional in the area, saying that you, Kelly Kraus, were encouraging your organization, the Arizona Network of Feminist Student Activists was encouraging students to commit felonies. They had the quote of Chris Roads, the registrar. So, then what happened?

KELLY KRAUS: Well, right, they had the support of both the Pima County registrar and also the Secretary of State when we contacted them right after the incident, basically that’s the position of Fox, which was outrageous and really discouraging to all students on campus, because we have all been doing voter registration under the same pretenses.

AMY GOODMAN: The Young Republicans as well?

KELLY KRAUS: Everyone, right. They were actually out on the mall that day also doing voter registration. It was kind of a coincidence that it was targeted to the feminist organization. But we explained to the reporter because we knew there was a Supreme Court case that expressly ruled the college students had the right to vote in their college community, but she had already made up her mind.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what did the Secretary of State say when you called to say that the Supreme Court has ruled on this?

KELLY KRAUS: Well, the message we were getting from the Secretary of State was ambiguous. Basically they said they would just read the actual statute and not interpret it. And then we need to sort of ask the questions, what does that mean? What is the statement intent? To try to get at those answers. It was just unclear. That’s when this inaccurate — this inaccurate interpretation came from the registrar of voters saying that it meant you had to be here indefinitely, be here when you graduate from school.

AMY GOODMAN: So how did this all change? Because there have been developments since, and there have been clarifying statements from the registrar and Fox has done another report. Sarah Ransom.

SARAH RANSOM: What we did is we looked at the Arizona State residency requirements for voters. It does say you need physical presence in the state and the intent to remain. We thought, what does intent to remain mean, and since the U.S. Supreme Court is authoritative on this issue, we decided to find out what the U.S Supreme Court said, and they say unequivocally in a case Symm v U.S. that a student — there is no requirement that any student in order to establish that he is a resident of the place where he wishes to vote establish that he intends to remain there permanently or for any particular period of time. Therefore, when you look at the Arizona statute, simply, students need to have physical presence in Pima County and intent to remain for the 29 days before the election.

AMY GOODMAN: The Secretary of State has issued a clarifying statement, or the registrar?

SARAH RANSOM: The Pima County Recorder.

AMY GOODMAN: Pima County Recorder.

SARAH RANSOM: F. Ann Rodriguez.

AMY GOODMAN: And Fox has duly reported this?



AMY GOODMAN: So, you have won?

SARAH RANSOM: With their own spin on it.

AMY GOODMAN: Which was?

SARAH RANSOM: Fox was relentless in attempting to portray the students as — for instance, we held a press conference on September 8 and they portrayed the students as defiantly registering to vote and telling the officials to come and get us and we have no limits to our right to vote and then, you know the phone calls kept coming. Pima County Recorder’s office issued a retraction, stated that Fox had misinterpreted the law. Then on September 24, they ran another report where they stated that it was all the Pima County Recorder’s office, oh, but, if you are here for 29 days before the election, I guess you can go out and register to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Congratulations on your victory, getting what is a right clarified here in Arizona. Hopefully people have seen the subsequent reports. Sarah Ransom of the National Lawyer’s Guild Student Chapter and Kelly Kraus, president of the University of Arizona Network of Feminist Student Activists.

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