[Image courtesy of ncsu.edu]
The State of North Carolina has gotten lots of election coverage recently because of its recently-enacted election law imposing ID requirements and making numerous changes to registration and voting laws, but the state has also been the site of heated debates at the local level about whether and how to accommodate student voting.
Yesterday, the North Carolina State Board of Elections held a meeting to consider two of these disputes. The first involved a residency challenge to a college senior running for local office. WUNC has the story:
Richard Gilbert, who goes by Pete, is the chair of the Republican Party in Pasquotank County. Over the years, he’s ambled into the County Elections Board meetings in that coastal county and challenged the legitimacy of dozens of voters, many of them students from Elizabeth City State University.
His argument is almost always the same: that the college students who live in dorms there aren’t permanent residents.
So it wasn’t a surprise when he challenged the candidacy of Montravias King, a senior at the historically black university, who had filed to run for city council.
“My case is, that he doesn’t meet the bar for being a candidate in the ward that I live in,” Gilbert told the State Board of Elections.
Last month, Gilbert won his challenge against King at the county level. Now, he was on the big stage, making the same argument.
“The fact that he hasn’t provided evidence that he’s living where he says he’s living,” Gilbert said. “It’s his burden to provide the evidence, and so far he’s provided no evidence.”
King’s attorney countered that he had provided evidence, including a driver’s license and banking and employment records.
Democrats and progressives across the state and across the country have made King’s case a high-profile event. They say it is part of a concerted, coordinated effort by Republicans to deny young people the chance to vote – or run for local office. Gilbert himself was quoted as saying he was going to take his “show on the road.”
That road led to Raleigh, and dead-ended into the State Board of Elections.
All three Republicans, including chair Josh Howard, voted in King’s favor. After the decision, the young candidate for City Council beamed.
“Justice has prevailed,” he said, surrounded by supporters, including NAACP President Rev. William Barber. “Justice has prevailed. I am not entirely surprised about the decision today. We knew we were on the right side of the law and the constitution the whole time.”
The second dispute involves a case I blogged about recently, involving the decision to consolidate three precincts in Wautauga County and eliminate an early voting site on the campus of Appalachian State University:
[T]he second half of the State Elections Board hearing … also focused on college students and their access to the electoral process. Last month, the Watauga County Board of Elections earned its own measure of fame when a YouTube video of one of its meetings went viral.
Kathleen Campbell is the lone Democrat on the three-person Watauga Board of Elections. She got upset when her Republican colleagues proposed closing the one-stop voting site on Appalachian State University’s campus, and consolidating three precincts in Boone into one.
“My opinion is, they do not want, and it’s not just them, it’s a statewide obvious thing that’s going on, they do not want students to vote,” she told the State Board. “And they are trying keep the students from voting by making it inconvenient for them to vote.”
Campbell wouldn’t say it, but the “they” she is referring to is “Republicans.”
The State Board wasn’t buying this argument. After the Watauga Board indicated it would re-visit the consolidating issue, the State Board upheld the locals’ decision to eliminate the one-stop voting site on campus.
“We’re not going to mandate from Raleigh that you guys open up a second site a half mile away,” said Josh Howard, chair of the State Board of Elections.
Interestingly enough, WUNC notes that county officials in another college town unanimously added a polling place on campus to accommodate students:
[T]he Elections Board in Harnett County, south of Raleigh, quietly added a precinct on a college campus this past spring.
The unanimous vote to create precinct 32 in Buies Creek came without fanfare or much public comment. The polling site was placed on the campus of Campbell University, a Christian University with a reputation for conservatism.
“You have to have a place that has good parking, is free, and has the room,” said Bill Currin, a Republican and current chair of the Harnett County Board of Elections. “And the previous director contacted Campbell and they said maybe we can make this work.”
That place with plenty of parking and free access? It’s Campbell’s John W Pope Junior Convocation Center. And if that name sounds familiar, John Pope, Jr. is the late brother of Art Pope, the State Budget Director whose family foundation is a major donor to conservative think tanks like the John Locke Foundation and Civitas.
And while that may raise partisan conspiracy theories, it should be noted that the Harnett Board of Elections that came up with that idea in the Spring, discussed it, and passed it unanimously, was majority [D]emocrat.
“We, as a Board, always talked about free, fair, and open election,” said Currin, a high-school social studies teacher.
The article is particularly good in noting that attention to high-profile enactments at the state level often overlook the even more contentious disputes at the local level. State Board Chair Howard offered this advice:
“You guys gotta start getting along … this is not how elections in North Carolina need to be run.”
That may be easier said than done as the election law battles continue in North Carolina.