Being thrown off the ballot was the best thing that ever happened to Montravias King. The national coverage that rained down on the Elizabeth City State University student when a local elections board in North Carolina rejected his initial City Council bid surely helped him break out from the field of candidates. He got the chance to plead his case, and his views, before millions, reaching many more people than a meager campaign budget could ever allow. This week, according to preliminary results, the university senior was the top vote-getter and will get to represent the ward where his school is located. Was turnout affected by the actions of the board in an increasingly partisan state atmosphere where restrictive voting laws have drawn legal action from many groups, including the U.S. Justice Department? King, who never stopped thinking local, didn’t take any chances, knocking on 365 doors for votes, he said in the News & Record. He said that in addition to his fellow students, he had gotten a “great and amazing” reception from older voters. That he had also discussed the issue of voter suppression with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who went to North Carolina for the story, was an unexpected extra.
The case could signal some frustration with actions by the Republican-controlled state legislature and governor’s office, a conservative North Carolina turn that triggered protests that continue. And it could preview voting battles ahead, in the state and the nation.
For a while, it didn’t look good for King. The civics-minded student, active in the NAACP, used his on-campus address – the one he had voted from since he moved there after high school — when he filed for office. Richard “Pete” Gilbert, chairman of the Pasquotank County Republican party, argued, with backup from the Republican-controlled county elections board, that King couldn’t use a dormitory address. Gilbert also used that reasoning to challenge the voting rights of many students at historically black Elizabeth City and purge them from the rolls.