One victory, one defeat for student voting rights in North Carolina

Updated
Poll workers review voter authorization forms and provisional ballots after the polls closed at the Covenant Presbyterian Church during the U.S. presidential...
Poll workers review voter authorization forms and provisional ballots after the polls closed at the Covenant Presbyterian Church during the U.S. presidential...
Chris Keane/Reuters

In what’s been described as a victory for student voting rights, the North Carolina Board of Elections ruled Tuesday that an Elizabeth City State University student can run for office using his school address, despite challenges from Republicans.

The Pasquotank County Republican Party chair had challenged Montravias King’s candidacy for city council on the grounds that his on-campus address did not prove permanent residency. Republicans on the local board of elections upheld that challenge, disqualifying King from running for office. On Tuesday, the State Board of Elections reversed that decision.

A second voting rights case Tuesday upheld a decision by the Watauga County elections board to close an early voting site on the Appalachian State University campus. Challengers, including the local county board’s sole Democratic member, argued that the early voting site on campus should be kept open since many voters in the community either attend or work at ASU.

Many voting rights advocates worried the decision in the King case could have implications beyond the seat he was running for, since the residency rules for voting and candidacy are the same. The issue of whether or not a student can cast a ballot in the town he or she attends school has been debated and fought over legally, with the Supreme Court ruling in 1979 in favor of students.

“[The State Board of Elections is] not leaning in favor of access for voters when they have discretion,” Bob Hall of Democracy NC told the News Observer. “But in the cases where the law’s very clear and there’s a case-law precedent, they don’t want to look extreme so they don’t go beyond that.”

Gov. Pat McCrory’s recent elections law included provisions that could suppress student votes. Those measures include a new restrictive voter ID law that does not allow students to use identification cards provided by their college or university, and the cancelation of a program that had helped to pre-register high school students 16 or older.

Supporters of the strict new regulations said is designed to instill greater integrity in elections in the station but protesters and critics argued that the law is designed to suppress the votes of students and minorities. President Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008, and lost it by less than 100,000 votes in 2012. In both elections, voters under 30 and minority voters picked Obama over his challenger Mitt Romney by large margins.

One victory, one defeat for student voting rights in North Carolina

Updated