As college students across the country settle into new routines that the start of a semester typically bring, many in North Carolina are complaining of feeling unsettled about their voting rights. Since mid-August, when Gov. Pat McCrory signed broad revisions to North Carolina’s elections law, local elections boards in several counties – including Pasquotank and Watauga – have initiated changes that college students are fighting as attempts to suppress their votes. Three cases are scheduled to be heard by the state Board of Elections on Tuesday afternoon. Students and civic groups including NCPIRG, Common Cause, Ignite NC, NCSU Student Power Union, Democracy NC and Rock the Vote will gather outside the meeting to urge the board to reverse local county board decisions that protest organizers describe as ones “that make it harder for young people to vote and participate in our democracy.”
The cases on the state board’s agenda include:
• Montravias King, an Elizabeth City State University student disqualified from seeking a city council seat, is fighting a ruling by the Republican-controlled Pasquotank County Board of Elections. In an August decision, the eastern North Carolina county’s board upheld a challenge by Richard “Pete” Gilbert, the county’s Republican Party chairman, claiming King could not use his on-campus dorm address to establish residency in a county where he had been registered to vote for four years.
Clare Barnett, the attorney from the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice representing King, argues that there is a long-established right of college students to vote in their college communities. Under equal protection principles of the Constitution, Barnett argues, college students cannot be treated differently from other voters.
• The Watauga County Board of Elections in Boone voted to close an early voting and general election polling place at Appalachian State University. The county board, with Republicans in control, limited early voting to one site in Boone. The board also combined three precincts into one, creating the state’s third-largest voting precinct at a site that has only 35 parking spaces to accommodate the 9,300 voters. The site, according to students, is about a mile from campus on a road with no sidewalks.