That didn't take long. Hours after Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation overhauling North Carolina's voting laws, local election boards started making changes that will make it harder for college students to participate in elections.
The Watauga County Board of Elections on Monday voted 2-1 -- two Republicans against one Democrat -- to shut down an early voting site and an Election Day precinct on the Appalachian State University campus. They also cut the number of early voting sites overall from three to one, and combined three Election Day precincts into one. That will put 9,300 Boone residents in one precinct, though the Watauga Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges said state guidelines call for a maximum of 1,500 voters in any one precinct.
The move came in front of dozens of protesters who booed and chanted "shame on you." Republican board member Luke Eggers warned the vocal crowd that they could be sent to jail for up to 30 days if they didn't "obey the lawful commands of the board of elections," the High Country Press reported.
Bob Phillips of Common Cause points out that on the same day Watauga Republicans were shutting down the ASU voting site, Gov. Pat McCrory was doing interviews assuring the public that politics wouldn't play any role in determining where polling locations would be.
"They won't be selected based on politics or political partisan positions, which is wrong," McCrory told WUNC's Frank Stasio.
It's quite obvious that the Watauga board's move will make it harder for Appalachian State students to vote. The new law doesn't change how early voting sites are selected -- they are chosen by each county's board of elections. With Republicans in power, every county board contains two Republicans and one Democrat. Democrats, we imagine, sought political advantage through voting locations as well.
Early voting's goal is to make voting convenient for all residents, regardless of their registration. Cutting the number of days and the number of locations undercuts that goal.
Meanwhile, in Pasquotank County, the Republican-controlled Board of Elections is blocking a properly registered voter from running for City Council because he is a student at Elizabeth City State University. Senior Montravias King has been registered to vote in Pasquotank since coming to college in 2009. King filed to run for City Council, but the board ruled he couldn't use his campus address to establish residency, the Associated Press reported.
Lawyer Clare Barnett, representing King, cited an N.C. Supreme Court ruling that said students can register to vote in the towns where they attend college. Pasquotank wants a system where it's OK to vote but not OK to run for office? Probably not, actually: the county's Republican chairman says he plans to challenge the voter registration of other ECSU students.
Every move in politics, of course, is designed to give one party a political advantage. But for the millions of N.C. residents whose careers don't hinge on winning elections, the primary goal should be vigorous and widespread participation in our democracy. Looks like not everyone agrees.
-- Taylor Batten
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