- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Jerry Falwell Jr. is attempting to get more than 10,000 of his Liberty University students — the majority of whom are out-of-staters — registered as Virginia voters, a plan he thinks will help Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain in this battleground state.

“If they register here, they’re more likely to vote,” said Mr. Falwell, chancellor of the conservative Christian school that his father founded.

Two-thirds of the students on campus are from out of state, according to the College Board. College students historically vote in small numbers, and some observers say the hassles of voting absentee is one of the reasons.

To make sure students have no excuses, Mr. Falwell has canceled classes on Election Day and has arranged for city buses to get students to the polls.

The school already pays the city so students can ride the buses for free, said Mr. Falwell, who supports Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican.

If Mr. Falwell’s efforts succeed, his students could form an important bloc of voters in Virginia, widely considered a tossup between Mr. McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat.

Many Virginia elections are decided by smaller margins than Liberty’s 10,500-student population. In 2006, Sen. George Allen, a Republican, lost his U.S. Senate seat to Jim Webb, a Democrat, by roughly 9,300 votes.

Liberty — one of the largest evangelical Christian universities in the country — appears to be making the most organized effort to get students to the polls.

Both campaigns have been courting the youth vote on college campuses in Virginia, targeting large public universities such as the 28,000-student Virginia Tech with voter registration drives.

Elections officials in some Virginia college towns stoked the debate by saying that most students should register where their parents live. In early September, the State Board of Elections told local officials that college students can register using their dorm room address.

Liberty students have responded to their chancellor’s call to get politically active. A week after he urged them at a September convocation to register for the presidential election, more than 3,000 had signed up, overwhelming the voting registrar’s office so that she had to ask school officials to help process the forms.

Student Grace Woodson had been registered in Stamford, Conn., but decided after Mr. Falwell’s talk to switch her registration to Virginia.

“I wanted to have the pleasure of being able to go to the polls to make a difference in the community,” said Miss Woodson, who is active in the College Republicans.

However, James Kimmey said he must cast his ballot in his hometown of San Diego, so he could vote for an initiative to ban gay marriage. Still, he supported the chancellor’s effort.

Mr. Falwell is stepping into his father’s shoes politically. The Rev. Jerry Falwell, who died last year, turned the Christian right into a national political force in the 1980s known as the Moral Majority.

“Dad might have been a little more outspoken, but registering voters might have just as much impact,” Mr. Falwell said.

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