North Carolina is continuing its trend of anti-voter measures, many of which negatively impact students. Most recently, Wake County decided to remove an on-campus polling location, continuing the direct attacks on student voters.
Last week, Wake County officials approved eight early voting locations for the upcoming election, but failed to include a site at North Carolina State University. N.C. State hosted an early voting site in 2012, when over 13,000 people voted at its Talley Student Union. Election officials cited lack of parking as a reason for its removal from the list. This early voting location would be walkable for the 35% of the 24,000 undergraduate students who live on campus and convenient for all other students, faculty, and staff who are on campus on a regular basis. The new early voting location will be 3.6 miles away from campus. Graduate student Stacy Roberts argued that in making their decision, Board officials overestimated the quality and ease of public transportation. Without an on-site location, students will have to find transportation and more time in their busy schedules to vote early for the general election in November.
This action adds to the ongoing assault elected officials have taken targeting student voters. The broadest change is the restrictive voter ID law passed in 2013, which also eliminated same day registration and shortened early voting hours. As part of the new restrictions, student IDs will no longer be considered a valid form of identification to show at the polls beginning in 2016. The state directly attacked student voters when lawmakers also proposed a “Dependency Clause” which would have deterred students from registering to vote with their school address by prohibiting their parents from claiming them as dependents for tax purposes if they registered at different address then their parents. The portion of the bill was eventually removed.
Local counties have instituted a number of detrimental voting measures, making it more difficult for students to vote even before the new requirements go into effect.
The clash between student voters and local election officials started last September, when poll workers in Pasquotank County questioned student voters from Elizabeth City State University, an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) on their voter IDs and residency statuses. The student community rallied back and organized a march to the polls, and activists at NC Vote Defenders joined in the fight to exercise their right to vote. Additionally, senior Montravias King filed to run for city council. Despite having voted in the past three elections prior to deciding to run, Pasquotank county officials initially denied his application, citing residency issues. The state board overruled the decision and King eventually won his seat on city council.
Conflict has continued this year, and students at Appalachian State University and N.C. State University will no longer have conveniently located on-campus early voting sites for November. In March the Watauga County Board of Elections unanimously voted to reaffirm their decision to remove an on–campus early voting site from Appalachian State University’s campus, a move highly criticized by student government leaders at Appalachian State who spoke to the board in favor of keeping the site.
On-campus early voting sites are much more convenient in terms of transportation and time management for students, and can also serve as strong rallying points for campuses in their GOTV efforts. Leading up to an election, on-campus early voting can increase excitement among the student body, and provide momentum behind civic engagement related activities such as candidate debates, issue forums, and registration drives. These locations serve students, and also many community members, faculty, and staff who live and work in the vicinity. They should be protected and promoted. Preventing them from being established on campuses only serves to limit access for student voters.