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Congressional Democrats echo Liberty's efforts to encourage students to vote

August 13, 2012 : By Ron Brown

Liberty University has its own voting precinct, which opened for the first time on March 6 for the Republican presidential primary. The precinct at the Vines Center received 590 votes, more than any other precinct in the state.

Congressional Democrats have followed Liberty University’s lead in urging college students to vote.

An Aug. 7 letter signed by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 187 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives asked the nation’s colleges and universities to take a more active role in educating students about the electoral process.

“While students are expected to come out to the polls to vote in great numbers this year, more can be done to eliminate the potential barriers that students may face in November,” the letter said.

The letter was addressed to Liberty President and Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr., who has been encouraging students to vote since 2008, despite an outcry from Lynchburg area Democrats and other local residents.

“Historically, students have faced unique barriers to the polls that have discouraged participation, or prevented individuals from voting entirely,” Congressional Democrats wrote. “Restrictive residency and identification requirements, inconveniently located polling places, inadequate distribution of voting equipment, and false, misleading and sometimes intimidating information have created difficulties for college students trying to exercise their right to vote.”

In 2009, letters to the editor of a local newspaper depicted Liberty’s voter registration efforts as “very disturbing,” “a disgrace,” and an “effort to take over City Council.” None of those dire predictions have come to fruition.

Liberty began an information campaign by urging students to vote locally. Falwell contends that students have a vested interest in governmental policies, which directly affect the cost of their education and the quality of their life while in Lynchburg.

Since Liberty students began registering to vote in Lynchburg, City Council has agreed to share in the cost of a new pedestrian overpass, which helps students walk safely to nearby businesses on Wards Road, one of the busiest corridors in the city. Before the overpass was built, students had to dart in and out of traffic to cross the road, which had no crosswalks or any other pedestrian safety features.

Also, Liberty, which has more than 12,500 residential students, has been given its own voting precinct.

In addition to its local student population, Liberty provides jobs for more than 6,200 employees, who are also encouraged to vote.

“As the leader of an institution for higher education, you are in a unique position to facilitate student participation in the electoral process,” Congressional Democrats wrote. “Importantly, student voters are often first time voters. Studies have shown that if voters cannot register and vote the first time they attempt to exercise this fundamental right, they will be less likely to vote in subsequent elections.”

Falwell said he is pleased that Congressional Democrats are starting to see things his way.

“While local Democrats have complained about Liberty students voting, Nancy Pelosi and 187 Democratic members of Congress are asking college presidents to get the student vote out. It is rare that I agree with Nancy Pelosi on anything but this time, she got it right. I intend to do exactly as she has requested this fall,” he said.