[Image via cnu]

New court-ordered legislative lines in Virginia now split the Christopher Newport University campus in Newport News, forcing the city’s registrar to get creative in figuring out which students belong on each side of the line in what could be a high-stakes election next Tuesday. The Virginian-Pilot has more:

Trying to get the right ballot before the right Christopher Newport University students has been a major project for Newport News Voter Registrar Vicki Lewis this year.

Court-ordered redistricting to undo racial gerrymandering reshaped many House of Delegates districts. One new line split CNU’s campus between the new 94th and 95th districts. The line was drawn along the blocks of Warwick Boulevard that that run past and through CNU, and students live in dorms on both sides of that road.

The challenge for Lewis is that all the students have one postal address, no matter which dorm they live in. It’s in the 94th district, where Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, is facing off against Democrat Shelly Simonds in a hotly contested rematch that could be key to control of the General Assembly.

Lewis found about 600 students — voters registered at the CNU address — on her rolls. Some 135 were classified as inactive voters — that is, that they appear to have moved and have not responded to requests to confirm they still live on campus.

But after a series of emails, phone calls, text messages and mailings, along with some help from CNU officials, Lewis has been able to nail down which district some 309 students actually live in. That means they’ll know where they’ll go to vote and will get a ballot with the right candidates listed.

Meanwhile, she’s seeking guidance from the state in case any students — whether the 150 or so who have not responded to her outreach efforts or the 309 who might still be confused about where to do — show up at the wrong place.

Those who live on the larger chunk of campus — that is, to the west or south of Warwick — will vote in the Wellesley precinct, in the 94th. Those who live on the other side of Warwick will vote in the Boulevard precinct, which is now in the 95th.

Del. Marcia “Cia” Price, D-Newport News, is unopposed on that ballot.

If there’s some doubt about any voter’s status on Election Day, they can be issued a provisional ballot, which would be counted if they can show the local Electoral Board by the end of that week that they are in fact entitled to vote where they went to cast their ballots.

So could the voting district of a few hundred students make a difference? Remember: The 2017 election in the 94th ended in a tie between Yancey and Simonds, which was broken by a lot drawing. Yancey won, keeping Republicans in control of the House for two more years.

That year, most of the 26 provisional ballots reviewed in the 94th were from voters who cast ballots in person after they’d been sent absentee ballots. But some cases involved confusion about where CNU students lived, because of differences between their voter registration address and the ones they gave when they renewed their driver’s licenses.

This story brings together several factors: residency questions for students, addressing issues that often arise on campuses (all of CNU’s mail goes to postal boxes in a mailroom at the student center), redistricting – and the prospect of a close race with high partisan stakes for the state. Kudos to the registrar and the university for working together to clarify the issue for CNU voters; here’s hoping there’s as few problems as possible on Election Day next Tuesday. Stay tuned!