COURTHOUSE - Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) students recently received a real-life lesson: Do not sign something unless you thoroughly read it.
Students, who last month signed a petition that was being circulated on the Blue Bell campus to legalize marijuana for primarily medicinal purposes, now are finding out that they are registered Republicans.
"This is just very disheartening," said Plymouth resident Jennifer Fugo, a 24-year-old continuing education student who describes herself as a "victim of voter registration manipulation."
"Everyone is encouraging young people to register and vote and then they experience something like this," Fugo said Monday. "This is just outrageous."
Fugo, who had been living in New York, this summer returned to the area and, in August, had her voter registration transferred to Plymouth. Her new registration card at that time correctly listed her party affiliation as a Democrat.
Imagine her surprise last week, said Fugo, when she received a new registration card from the county that listed her as a registered Republican.
"It is disgraceful and detestable, not to mention illegal, to alter anyone's voter registration without that person's consent," Fugo said. "The thought that there is a special interest group in my area that is knowingly defrauding citizens voting records is outrageous, no matter what party or interest group is perpetrating this act."
When she contacted the county's voter registration office, she was advised that she was not the only MCCC student who was a victim of registration fraud.
County voter services Director Joseph R. Passarella said that his office has received "less than a handful" of complaints from MCCC students complaining that they have been registered as Republicans and all were tied into the same petition drive.
His office has not been able to pin down the group that submitted these registrations.
Passarella speculated that there are various organizations this year who are paying people to register new voters in specific parties and that this was the work of someone trying to cash in on the registrations.
The good news is that it does not make any difference in what party a person is registered in the upcoming election because a registered voter can vote for any candidate on the ticket regardless of party, Passarella said.
However, if a person wants to vote in next spring's Democratic or Republican primary elections and is not registered in the party of his or her choice, he or she can change the registration after the Nov. 2 general election, he said.
"I think these kids learned the hard way to make sure they read things before signing them and not sign anything that is questionable," Passarella said.
Fugo said she had questioned the signing of the registration form, telling the petition circulator that she already was registered to vote. He told her they were just using the form for information purposes and that she could not sign the petition unless she also signed the form.
Susan Adams, MCCC's director of marketing and communications, Monday said she was first alerted to the situation last Friday after the school had received calls from a student and the parent of another student.
Adams said that all persons circulating petitions on the college's campus must first sign in with the school.
No one signed in nor received an OK to circulate the marijuana petition, Adams said.
MCCC in early September did host a voter registration drive where the Republican, Democratic and Green Parties participated, Adams said.
"That was very successful," said Adams. "There is a lot of interest in this election."
Montgomery County Republican Committee Executive Director Adam Gattuso said the county GOP did not condone such registration fraud and did not learn about it until late last week.
"That is despicable and not something we would do nor need to do," said Gattuso.
Margaret Gibbons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-272-2501 ext. 216.