GOP-backed boards add hurdles for college voters
Posted August 20, 2013
Updated August 21, 2013
Elizabeth City, N.C. — An Elizabeth City State University student who has lived and voted in his college town since 2009 found his candidacy for city council thwarted by a decision by the local elections board.
Montravias King, an ECSU senior, was surprised that the Pasquotank County Board of Elections ruled that his residence, in a college dorm, didn't count toward the residency requirement to run for office.
He filed to represent the city's Fourth District, only to see his name removed from the ballot.
"The residency requirements for a candidate are the exact residency requirements for a voter," King said, noting that he has worked, volunteered and voted in Elizabeth City for four years.
The state NAACP worries that the county elections board's actions will have a ripple effect on student voters in Pasquotank and across the state.
Pete Gilbert, chairman of the county's Republican party, challenged King's candidacy. Gilbert says a college dorm isn't a legal residence because it's closed for part of the year. He's challenged dozens of ECSU student voters on similar grounds in recent years.
The newly appointed Republican majority on the board agreed with Gilbert, a move King's lawyer says violates long-established state and federal legal precedent.
"The (U.S.) Supreme Court has already ruled on this decades ago," lawyer Jeremy Collins said. "College students have the right to vote in the town where they go to school."
On Tuesday, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed an appeal to the Pasquotank Board of Elections on King's behalf.
"I think it's sad that we have to deal with these challenges," King said. "College students should be encouraged to participate in the community that they call home. This has been my home since the summer of 2009."
William Skinner, the lone Democrat on the board, said Wednesday that the law is very clear, and King should have remained on the ballot.
"If you can vote in any political district, you should be able to run for office there," said Skinner, who voted to keep King's name on the ballot. "You can't deny a person who's been voting if he wants to run."
The two Republican board members, who were with Skinner in Cary Wednesday for training, declined to comment.
Pasquotank is not the only county making it tougher for students to vote. The Watuaga County elections board decided to close the early voting site at Appalachian State University and shut down an Election Day precinct there. Forsyth County is considering shuttering early voting at Winston-Salem State University.
Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, says it's a blatant attempt at voter suppression.
"It's a vulgar manipulation of the political process for one's own partisan reasons," he said. "We will not take it, we will not stand for it, and we will win."
NAACP attorney Al McSurely says the group will ask U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate counties where Republican-majority boards of election are making changes to accepted practice.
"There a pattern of it across the state," McSurely said. "They come in with an agenda, like this thing is already pre-written and brought in on a platter."