College students eager to vote in the Nov. 4 general election should have an easier time registering in York County, if they choose to cast their ballots here.
Many students vote absentee in their hometowns, but they can change their registrations to where they reside and attend school.
Until January, the county election commission required proof of residence -- such as a driver's license showing a York County address -- before allowing students to register.
Now, if students complete voter registration applications stating that Winthrop, Clinton Junior College or any other local school is their place of permanent residence, the county will register them, county director Wanda Hemphill said.
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"We want folks to have access to that process as conveniently as possible, but we also want to make sure students are properly registered at the place they consider their residence," Hemphill said.
The deadline for everyone to register is Saturday, Oct. 4.
Questions over student voting rights have flared over the years, most recently last week, when a voting rights activist conducted a study that included York County.
Sujatha Jahagirdar, program director of the Student Public Interest Research Group's New Voters Project in Washington, said she encountered problems when she posed as a college freshman last week and called registrar's offices in York and Greenville counties.
She said a York County representative asked if she was in town for school, and when she said yes, stated flatly: "You can't vote here."
Hemphill said she wasn't aware of the exchange. Whatever the case, Hemphill said she has reviewed registration rules with her staff.
Jahagirdar said a Greenville official asked if her parents listed her as a dependent, and when she replied in the affirmative, told her: "You should vote where your parents live."
The Greenville director of elections later clarified what she meant: If students live in dormitories, they must respond to a series of questions laid out in a 1974 federal court order covering voting registration in the county. Students must demonstrate their "intent to claim this locale as their home when they finish school."
Jahagirdar called the counties' policies "intimidating" and said they "send a message that young voters are not welcome in our democracy" just when they're first enjoying the right to vote.
Hemphill said student registration can be difficult because laws are vague on what qualifies as a domicile, or home. "It's not a cut-and-dry issue," Hemphill said.