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College Students Claim Voter Intimidation


The Kentucky Attorney General's office confirms it has received a complaint of alleged voter intimidation of college students. The Attorney General's communications director, Allison Martin, says the office is "actively reviewing the situation."

At the heart of the complaint is an anonymous, full-page ad placed in Berea Citizen newspaper. The vice president of Berea College Student Government, Jacob Burdette, says he was "shocked and disappointed" by the ad.

"It did feel a little bit like an attempt at voter suppression," Burdette says. "Our message is, if you consider Berea home and you've taken steps to make it such, with regards to voting, go vote."

Burdette is from West Virginia, but is registered to vote in Kentucky, something he is allowed to do because he attends college in Berea. The ad singled out college students, noting their right to vote is "subject to be challenged" when they show up to vote Tuesday and those found not to be eligible "could face significant penalties."

Jonah Cabiles, who is from Hawaii, is also registered to vote here. Cabiles is the campus organizer for Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the grassroots organization which asked the Attorney General to look into the ad's alleged threats.

"They are kind of pulling in this really heavy legal term to intimidate student voters, especially those who don't actually know, who aren't really specific with the Kentucky Revised Statute," Cabiles says.

Martin says college students have the right to choose where they vote.

"They determine whether that residence is at college or in that home precinct where they grew up," she says. "So, if they're from out of state, but they now consider Kentucky their residence, then they can vote in Kentucky if they're registered to vote here."

Because Kentucky law does allow political parties to station "poll challengers" at voting locations, Burdette says Berea College Student Government will provide students information on how to handle challenges.

The controversial ad says it was paid for by "concerned citizens of Berea." Burdette says of those who placed the ad, "The fact someone is trying to disparage votes from students who are engaged and informed speaks poorly to their own understanding of our democratic form of government."

The publisher of the Berea Citizen, Teresa Scenters, says the ad was placed by a "group of private citizens." She says she talked with the group's attorney and the paper does not turn down ads as long as they are not illegal. 

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