Democracy wins in NC Board of Elections vote

September 10, 2013 

The North Carolina Republican Party and its elected legislators haven’t been subtle about trying 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 Montravias 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, which is his voting address, as his official address. So says the State Board of Elections, reversing a decision by the Pasquotank County Board of Elections.

Constitution stands

King’s right to run had been challenged by Richard “Pete” Gilbert, chairman of the Pasquotank County Republican Party. Gilbert has challenged the voting rights of other ECSU students 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 we call the U.S. Constitution. 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 was just another example of how the Republican leaders of the General Assembly are trying to maintain their grip on power not just through any means available but through any means necessary.

Young people are inclined to vote Democratic? Solution: Cut campus voting sites and make it more difficult for students to vote. The elderly and minorities identify more as Democratic than Republican? Solution: Require a photo ID to vote and say it’s to prevent fraud even though instances of fraud are extremely rare.

Tricks, challenges

Aggressive Republican efforts in Raleigh to distort election results through gerrymandering and new rules and arrangements for voting have emboldened local boards to try to suppress the vote. Sometimes these efforts are so clumsy even the Republican-controlled State Board of Elections 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 by combining it and two other Boone voting sites. The combined precinct would have assigned 9,300 voters to an off-campus polling place with 35 parking spaces.

The local board, at the urging of the executive director of the State Board of Elections, later 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, an advocacy group, said the Republican pattern is clear: Suppress the 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, even with a 3-2 Republican majority, isn’t likely to buck clear and established law in ways that look too extreme. If only GOP lawmakers on Jones Street would do the same.

As local Republicans follow the lead of those in power at the state level, there is likely to be more confrontations over attempts to prevent people from voting. With every challenge to a credible, qualified and legally eligible voter to exercise his or her constitutional right, North Carolina is diminished just a little.

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