Cambridge City Councilor David A. Wylie charged yesterday that the Harvard administration has been "meddling" in local politics by discouraging Harvard students from registering to vote in Cambridge.
Wylie labeled "false and misleading" a memorandum prepared by Ropes and Gray, the University's law firm, which stated that students registering to vote in Cambridge may also be subject to local taxes and motor vehicle registration laws.
Daniel Steiner '54, general counsel to the University, said yesterday that the University "did not in any way want to discourage anyone from voting" but added he feels it is important that students have full information on the consequences of registering in Cambridge.
He acknowledged that publication of the memo may have what he termed a "chilling" effect on student registration, but denied that this had been the University's intent in distributing it.
Wylie, who has the support of the Cambridge Civic Association, alleged that the University was trying to keep down liberal registration in Cambridge by discouraging students from participating in local politics.
Cite a Case
The councilor asked Steiner to cite a single case of a student who had changed his voter registration and was then contracted by the city tax or traffic departments.
Steiner stood by the memorandum and said that Wylie was "wrong" in his assertion that there was no precedent for registration making a student eligible to the local tax and automobile laws.
The Cambridge Board of Elections, meeting last Thursday, decided to look into the Ropes and Gray memorandum to determine legal consequences of registering to vote in the city.
Edward J. Samp Jr., the election board's only lawyer, said yesterday the board had appointed him to look into the matter and to report back next week.
The controversy began when the Harvard Law Record carried an editorial in its September 20 edition stating that out-of-state students who register to vote in Cambridge would have to fulfill a six month residency requirement, as well as be subject to local taxation. The article was based on a Ropes and Gray memorandum which Steiner distributed to all University publications.
In a response to a September 24 letter from Wylie, Steiner checked over the 1971 memo he had redistributed and said that court decisions had eliminated the Cambridge residency requirement.
Steiner said yesterday he "made a mistake" in redistributing the old memorandum without checking it over more carefully.
Charles U. Daly, vice president for government and community affairs, distributed Thursday a new Ropes and Gray memorandum which deletes mention of a residency requirement, but leaves unchanged the firm's conclusions about Cambridge's tax laws.
Daly's accompanying letter states that Harvard is "interested in maximizing registration of students (in Cambridge and elsewhere)" and cites the University's cooperation in providing tables and office space for voter registration and imformation.
Wylie said the new memo shows that the University "really wants to kill student registration. It won't matter this year," he said, "but it may affect next year's municipal elections.