Saturday, October 07, 2006

Representation without Taxation? Different Rules for Different Voters

We're fixing to create two classes of temporary residents in the Commonwealth when it comes to voting. Students and the military.

Now don't get me wrong ... my dad was in the Army for 39 years and retired as a 4 star general. I support the folks in the military and am grateful for their service ... including the "service" of the families who often don't get adequate recognition for the sacrifices they make!

But, I can't for the life of me figure out why we should we want folks to vote in Virginia when they choose to maintain their domicile in another state just to avoid paying taxes in Virginia.

Representation without taxation?
As a taxpaying Virginian, I don't think it's right to say that folks who refuse to invest here should help decide who represents me. But that's exactly what Bob McDonnell seems to be okaying in an official opinion that he wrote to the Secretary of the State Board of Elections that was released this week.

To be registered to vote, one must both reside in Virginia and be domiciled in Virginia. Domicile requires a present intention to remain indefinitely. The attorney general says that a military person who tells Virginia he isn't subject to taxation because he resides elsewhere for tax purposes cannot automatically be denied the right to register to vote in Virginia. To that I say, why the heck not?

It's one thing to change the law as we did this year to grant active duty military and their dependents the automatic right to in-state tuition as a gift from the taxpayers of Virginia in recognition of their service. But, it's quite another to say that these same folks who choose not to pay taxes here should have a role in deciding who represents those of us who do (especially locally).

The Attorney General's opinion is just another in an increasingly long line of opinions written to advantage his political supporters (e.g., the opinion saying the governor can't set personnel policy, the opinion on the budget, the opinion on the bill opening up the chance to qualify for in-state tuition to undocumented children, the opinion requiring proof of legal presence for business licenses, and the opinion on the so-called marriage amendment).

Who benefits here?

Thelma Drake is in a tough political fight in the 2nd Congressional district. Her district has a number of active duty military families living in it who have their tax homes elsewhere. Those same folks also populate Paula Miller's Norfolk house of delegates district, sure to be hotly contested in 2007, and others like them are heavily represented in NOVA legislative districts also likely to be fiercely contested in 2007. The AG's opinion is clearly intended to offer a perceived political advantage for Republican candidates in these districts.

Now, let's contrast this with what's going on with voter registration for college students.

The Daily Press ran a story this week headlined:


The president's comments refer to uniform voter registration guidelines proposed by the State Board of Elections that he says will lead to some students being treated differently than others when they register to vote.

According to the article:

Nichol, a law professor, has called Virginia's voter registration process unconstitutional because students at some colleges can register to vote in their college towns while others can't. Williamsburg's voter registrar doesn't consider students with dorm addresses permanent residents of the city.

"Constitutional standards demand uniformity," Nichol wrote. The General Assembly could follow Iowa's lead by passing legislation giving permission to students to choose where they want to vote, he wrote.

"Accordingly, a student who grew up in Richmond and whose parents still reside there, but who is now attending college in another Virginia community, could choose to vote either in her new locale or where she grew up," he wrote. "That rule could then be applied uniformly across the Commonwealth."

Nichol's comments make sense ... particularly if we're going to define domicile differently for the Commonwealth's other large class of temporary residents ... the military and their families.

And, students who live and work here while in college are taxpayers ... they don't have the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act to protect them from Virginia law that says if you live here for 12 months, you have to pay taxes here:

""Resident'' for purposes of taxation, except as to Chapter 3 (§ 58.1-300 et seq.) of this title or as otherwise specifically provided, includes every person domiciled in the Commonwealth on the first day of any tax year, and every other person who has had his place of abode in the Commonwealth for the longer portion of the twelve months next preceding January 1 in each year, unless on or before that day he has changed his place of abode to a place outside the Commonwealth with the bona fide intention of continuing actually to abide permanently outside the Commonwealth.

The fact that a person who has so changed his place of abode, within six months from so doing, again abides within the Commonwealth shall be prima facie evidence that he did not intend permanently to have his actual place of abode outside the Commonwealth. Such person so changing his actual place of abode and not intending permanently to continue it outside the Commonwealth and not having listed his property for taxation as a resident of the Commonwealth for the purpose of having his personal property listed for taxation in the Commonwealth, shall be deemed to have resided on the day when such property should have been listed, at his last place of abode in the Commonwealth. The fact that a person whose place of abode during the greater portion of such twelve months has been in the Commonwealth does not claim or exercise the right to vote at public elections in the Commonwealth shall not, of itself, constitute him a nonresident of the Commonwealth within the meaning of this term.

So ...

why then are we treating students, who most often are paying taxes on income here, differently from the military, who often choose not to pay income taxes here, when it comes to voter registration?

I think the answer is clear.

Because the perception is that the military are more likely to vote Republican.

Now, go back and read my post on why voters should care who our Attorney General is...

And, the one titled "McDonnell as Activist Judge"

While the Attorney General is certainly an elected official, and the office is obviously "political," I don't think any Virginia Attorney General has ever used his or her opinion writing power so blatantly to service his political base as General McDonnell has ... and we're still in the first year of his 4 year term.