Published: September 9, 2013 Updated 13 hours ago
The North Carolina Republican Party and its elected legislators haven’t been subtle about their aim to suppress voting. The GOP majority in the General Assembly and the Republican governor approved a Voter ID law, ended straight-ticket voting and pre-registration by 16- and 17-year-olds and cut back on opportunities to vote early.
When it comes to weighing the public’s will through elections, they’re like a butcher with his thumb down on the scale. Now that they’re in charge, Republicans mean to hold on to power any way they can, even if it means bending, challenging or just changing the rules.
But last week, a young man named Montraviaus King, a student at Elizabeth City State University in northeastern North Carolina, won a right that never should have been challenged. He can run for the city council there using his campus address as his official address, his voting address. So says the State Board of Elections, reversing a decision by the Pasquotank County Board of Elections.
King’s right to run had been challenged by Richard “Pete” Gilbert, chairman of the Pasquotank County Republican Party. Gilbert has challenged other ECSU students’ rights to vote in his county on the grounds that they had permanent addresses elsewhere.
King was represented in his appeal to the state board by attorneys from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. They argued that denying King the right to run was the same as denying him the right to vote, which might present problems with a little something called the United States Constitution. Futhermore, the lawyers noted, the right of students to use their dorm addresses for the purpose of voting and running for office has been affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The local action against King represents just another example of how the Republican leaders of the General Assembly are trying to ensure their grip on power not just through any means available but through any means necessary.
Young people might vote Democratic? Solution: Cut campus voting sites and make it more difficult for students to vote. The elderly and minorities show up as more Democratic than Republican? Solution: Require a voter ID and tell people it’s to prevent fraud even though instances of fraud are extremely rare.
The aggressive efforts in Raleigh to distort election results through gerrymandering and new rules and arrangements for voting have emboldened local boards to try their own hands at suppressing the vote. Sometimes these efforts are so clumsy even the Republican-controlled State Board of Elections or its Republican-appointed director objects.
The Pasquotank County case was one example. Another was the Watauga County elections board’s maneuver to eliminate a polling place at Appalachian State University. It did so by combining the campus precinct and two other Boone voting sites. The combined precinct would have assigned 9,300 voters to vote at an off-campus location with 35 parking spaces.
The local board, at the urging of the executive director of the State Board of Elections, later reversed itself, dropped the combined precinct idea and restored a polling place on the ASU campus. The state board approved, however, the Watauga board’s decision to close an early voting site on the ASU campus for the coming municipal election.
Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina, a voting rights advocacy group, said the Republican pattern is clear: Make it harder to vote when interpretation allows, but follow the law when you must.
“They’re not leaning in favor of access for voters when they have discretion,” Hall said. But he said the state Board of Elections, even with a 3-2 Republican majority, isn’t likely to buck clear and established law so as not to look too extreme. (If only GOP lawmakers on Jones Street would do the same.)
With every challenge to a credible, qualified and legally eligible voter to exercise his or her constitutional right, North Carolina’s reputation is diminished a little more.