A student registers to vote in North Carolina. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Hours after passing the country’s worst voter suppression law, North Carolina Republicans escalated their attempts to prevent students from participating in the political process.
• The GOP-controlled board of elections in Pasquotank County voted to disqualify Montravias King, a senior at historically black Elizabeth City State University, from running for city council, claiming King couldn’t use his student address to establish residency, even though he’s been registered to vote there since 2009. “The head of the county’s Republican Party said he plans to challenge the voter registrations of more students at the historically black university ahead of upcoming elections,” the AP reported.
• The GOP chair of the Forsyth County Board of Elections is moving to shut down an early voting site at historically black Winston-Salem State University because he claims students were offered extra credit in class for voting there. “He offered no proof such irregularities had occurred,” the Raleigh News and Observer noted.
• The GOP-controlled Watauga County Board of Elections in Boone, North Carolina, voted along party lines to close an early voting and general election polling place at Appalachian State University. Instead, the county limited early voting to one site in Boone and created the state’s third-largest voting precinct, with 9,300 voters at a precinct designed for 1,500, with only thirty-five parking places. It’s inaccessible by public transportation and over a mile from campus along a 45 mph road with no sidewalk. “I feel like the people (students) who really care might come all the way out here to vote,” said Ashley Blevins, a junior at Appalachian State, “but I know a lot of people who are like, ‘eh, it’s too far—I don’t think I’m going to walk that far,’ because they don’t really have another way of getting here.”
The attempt to prevent students from voting and running for office where they attend school is likely unconstitutional based on the 1979 Supreme Court case Symm v. United States. Nonetheless, the GOP board of elections in Pasquotank County formally prevented King from running for office today. King can then appeal to the state board of elections, which is also controlled by Republicans. If it refuses to accept his candidacy, he can appeal to the state court of appeals. But time is running short. The election is the second Tuesday in October, and ballots will soon be printed without his name on it. There’s no guarantee the courts will hear the case before the election.
“This is highly unusual,” says Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is representing King. “I was on the state board of elections for two years and we never had a case where a candidate was disqualified a few weeks before the election.” Earlier this year, Pasquotank County GOP chair Richard Gilbert also purged fifty-six student voters from Elizabeth City State University, all African-American, from the voting rolls, claiming they were not properly register to vote at their campus address. At King’s hearing, Gilbert was accompanied by Susan Myrick of the Civitas Institute, a right-wing group funded almost exclusively by Art Pope, the conservative billionaire who is now Governor Pat McCrory’s budget director.
The shutting down of polling places on college campuses could also draw a legal challenge. “If there’s an intent to stop students from voting, that should be grounds for an equal protections challenge,” says Earls. “Can we get a state or federal court to stop it? That’s an open question.”
There were at least sixteen early voting sites located on college campuses during the 2012 election (UNC-Asheville, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Greensboro, North Carolina State University, Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, North Carolina Central University, Winston-Salem State University, North Carolina A & T University, Duke University, Johnston County Community College, Wake Tech Community College (2 sites), Stanly County Community College, Cape Fear Community College). Ten additional early voting sites are located within half a mile of a college campus (Boiling Springs Town Hall, Gardner-Webb University; Smith Recreation Center, Fayetteville State University; Franklin County Board of Elections Office, Louisburg College; Gaston County Citizens Resource Center, Gaston College; Oak Hollow Mall, John Wesley College; Morrison Regional Library, DeVry University; Randolph County Office Building, Randolph County Community College; Cole Auditorium, Richmond County Community College; former DSS Building, Catawba College; Old Library Building, Brevard College). Former North Carolina State Senator Ellie Kinnard, who resigned from office yesterday to fight the voter suppression law and help people get voter IDs, told Rachel Maddow that she believes the North Carolina GOP will try to shut down every one of them.
It’s also worth remembering that North Carolina’s strict voter ID law does not allow student IDs. “The depth and breadth of the anti-democratic policy is pretty stunning,” says Earls.
None of this would be happening if the Supreme Court hadn’t invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which previously covered forty of 100 counties in North Carolina. As Rick Hasen noted, the extreme voter suppression measures adopted in the state are a clear reason why Congress needs to strengthen the VRA.
UPDATE: The GOP elections chair in Forsyth County has walked back his vow to close an early voting site at Winston-Salem State University, for now. Reports the Winston-Salem Journal:
The chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Elections said Monday evening that the board will not make a decision Tuesday about an early voting site at Winston-Salem State University.
Ken Raymond told the Journal last week that he would try to eliminate the Anderson Center at WSSU as a site for early voting, and could move to do it as early as Tuesday’s meeting.
But Raymond, a Republican, said in an email Monday: “For the board to make a decision now would be very premature. And when we have the discussion, all of my concerns, which are well known, will be addressed.”
He said the decision would not be made by the board until next year.
The three questions that will decide the fate of the voting rights in North Carolina.