The Republican-controlled North Carolina State Board of Elections voted unanimously Tuesday to overturn a county election board’s ruling barring a student at a historically black college from running for local office because he’s registered to vote on campus. “Justice has prevailed,” Montravias King said after the board’s vote. Back in July, the senior at Elizabeth City State University filed to run for a local council seat. Local Republican Party official Richard “Pete” Gilbert challenged King’s candidacy last month, arguing that because his dorm address was only temporary he did not meet the residency requirements to run for city office. Voting rights advocates pointed out that North Carolina’s residency requirements for running for office and voting are the same. “This is a case about whether college students across the state can be denied the right to vote,” said King’s attorney, Clare Barnett with the Durham, N.C.-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
Gilbert has previously challenged the voter registrations of students at ECSU because they registered at their campus address. He has not undertaken similar challenges of students at Mid-Atlantic Christian University, a largely white private school that’s also in Elizabeth City. Gilbert told the state board that he was challenging King’s right to run for office only and not his right to vote.
However, the challenge to King has been perceived as part of a broader rollback of voting rights in North Carolina, where the Republican-controlled legislature just passed one of the nation’s most restrictive elections laws, which among other things imposes strict photo ID requirements while excluding the use of student IDs. In addition, several GOP-controlled local elections boards across North Carolina have recently considered actions that have been seen as efforts to prevent students from voting in the community where they attend school — a right that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a decision involving a historically black school in Texas.