ELECTIONS ‑- RESIDENCE ‑- SCHOOLS ‑- VOTING ELIGIBILITY OF CERTAIN STUDENTS
(1) Article VI, § 4 of the Washington Constitution does not prevent a student in school from establishing a voting residence where he is living while attending school if he has an actual intent to establish that place as his home either permanently or indefinitely for an appreciable period of time.
(2) The existing law regarding the voting residence of students would not be materially changed by the enactment of a statute providing that students attending any institution of learning may be registered to vote where they reside in the vicinity of such institution if they declare that they have no present intention to move to any other voting area.
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March 2, 1971
Honorable Arthur C. Brown
Chairman, Committee on
Elections and Apportionment
House Office Building
Olympia, Washington 98501
Cite as: AGO 1971 No. 10
By recent letter, you have requested an opinion of this office on two questions regarding the voting residence of persons attending school. We paraphrase your questions as follows:
(1) Does Article VI, § 4 of the Washington Constitution prevent a student in school from establishing a voting residence where he is living while attending school if he has an actual intent to establish that place as his home either permanently or indefinitely for an appreciable period of time?
(2) Giving consideration to the answer to question (1), would the present law regarding the voting residence of students be materially changed by the enactment of a statute stating that
". . . students attending any institution of learning may be registered to vote where [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] they reside in the vicinity of such institution if they declare that they have no present intention to move to any other voting area"?1/
We answer both of the foregoing questions in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.
Basically, both of your questions concern the proper construction to be given to Article VI, § 4 of the Washington Constitution, which provides as follows:
"For the purpose of voting and eligibility to office no person shall be deemed to have gained a residence by reason of his presence or lost it by reason of his absence, while in the civil or military service of the state or of the United States, nor while a student at any institution of learning, nor while kept at public expense at any poor-house or other asylum, nor while confined in public prison, nor while engaged in the navigation of the waters of this state or of the United States, or of the high seas."
The first question which you have posed with respect to this constitutional provision was previously considered by this office some years ago, in an opinion dated October 19, 1946, to the then secretary of state (AGO 1945-46 page 1087), copy enclosed. As set forth in its syllabus, the conclusion which was reached in this earlier opinion was as follows:
"Art. VI, section 4, of the state constitution does not prevent servicemen or students from establishing a voting residence at the place of service or attendance at school, if there is an actual intent to establish a permanent home at the place of service or attendance at school."
This conclusion was based upon a resume of decisional law from various jurisdictions which was set forth in 18 Am.Jur., Elections, § 62 (p. 221) as follows:
[[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
". . . Some state Constitutions provide that residence shall not be deemed to have been lost or gained while in attendance at any institution of learning. Under such a provision, a student does not acquire a residence for voting purposes merely by attending an institution of learning, but the provision will not prevent a person who goes to a place for the purpose of making it his place of permanent abode, independent of his sojourn as a student, from gaining a residence there as an elector, . . ."
In our judgment this quotation still reflects the proper interpretation of constitutional provisions like Article VI, § 4, supra, as the following more recent statement from 25 Am.Jur.2d, Elections, § 72, (p. 764) makes clear:
". . . a residence for voting purposes may be acquired when the student's attendance at school is accompanied by an intent to make that place his new home, and where the student's actions and conduct manifest such an intent, the courts recognize his right to vote from his college residence, constitutional or statutory provisions on residence of students notwithstanding. Similarly, as a general rule, a residence for voting purposes may be acquired where a student attending school or college has no intention of returning home, but is not certain as to the place of his future residence. . . ."
The critical point, then, is this: Article VI, § 4,supra, only provides that mere presence in a locality while engaged in certain activities (i.e., civil or military service or attendance at school) will not, by and of itself, result in a change in residence for voting purposes. However, it is in no way inconsistent with this proposition to say that physical presence, coupled with an intent to remain, either permanently or indefinitely for an appreciable length of time, will establish residency for voting purposes.2/
[[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
From this it follows that such a statutory provision as you have described in your letter would add nothing to the present state of the law. Such a statute would merely constitute a legislative enunciation and confirmation of legal principles which are already available to support an application for voting registration by a qualified student. As such, it would simply provide an additional enforcement tool for the realization of existing rights ‑ in the sense that a student seeking to register to vote under the circumstances envisioned by your question could cite a statute in his support, in addition to the authorities mentioned in our 1946 opinion and herein. However, the fact remains that the language which you propose would merely restate existing law.
We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
WAYNE L. WILLIAMS
Assistant Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/Cf., House Bill No. 382.
2/Again, this is essentially the view which was expressed by this office in the foregoing 1946 opinion, and on the basis of our review thereof, is a view which we now affirm.