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NC GOP Lawmakers Eagerly Work to Disenfranchise Blacks & Students Under New Voter Suppression Laws

Kalia Abiade • Aug 22, 2013

 “This is just damn stupid.”

‘Stupid’ voter suppression laws prove the need for the Voting Rights Act.

After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have wasted no time imposing the most restrictive voting law since the VRA was enacted in 1965.

Much of the criticism of the voting restriction in the state have centered on efforts to discourage African-American and low-income participation. Now, lawmakers have honed in on students, who tend to be more progressive.

“It is just so utterly transparent what they’re trying to do,” said Sen. Josh Stein, a Democrat.

This discouragement of young people’s participation is starting as early as high school. Previously, 17-year-olds were encouraged to pre-register to vote as part of their in-school civics classes — 160,000 North Carolina students have pre-registered under that program. As part of this bill, that program has been cut.

“We give them the opportunity to say participate in the political process and when you’re 18 will mail you your registration. We’re getting rid of that. No reason other than they don’t want young people to vote,” Stein said. “How does it restore integrity to the system?”

Another example that has received wide-spread attention is in Watauga County, home to Appalachian State University. The three-member Board of Elections there voted last week to limit the early voting polling locations, which included eliminating the on-campus site. They also voted to jam the three Election Day precincts in Boone, one of which was at the ASU campus, into one precinct.

The lone dissenter and Democrat on the board, Kathleen Campbell, raised questions around the legality of the decision and around the vote itself, citing open meeting statutes.

“This is just damn stupid,” she said.

The new Boone polling place has a about 30 parking spaces to share among those 9,340 voters. And, for students who can’t drive there face a 20-minute walk, one way, along a route devoid of paths or sidewalks in some parts. That is, if they’re even eligible to vote at all.

Student voter eligibility has again become a big issue on the other side of the state,  where Republicans have already taken drastic steps to roll back rights at Elizabeth City State University. This is a sort of two-for-one voter suppression deal for the GOP since it involves students and African Americans at this historically black school.

There, the Republican-controlled Board of Elections said Montravias King, a student at the university, is no longer eligible to run for city council, claiming he cannot use his dorm address to establish residency, even though he’s been registered to vote there for four years.

The board embraced the reasoning of the county’s GOP leader, Pete Gilbert, who has already purged the voting rolls of 56 additional Elizabeth City students, all black, claiming on-campuses addresses don’t count for seeking election or voting. This is despite a long-standing precedent of allowing students to vote where they attend school and 1979 U.S. Supreme Court affirming their right to do so. Nevertheless, Gilbert is encouraging his counterparts across the state to follow his lead.

“I plan to take this show on the road,” Gilbert said.

These three cases of suppression of young voters and voters of color are just a few of several recent examples of the blatant attempt to disenfranchise and discourage North Carolina voters who don’t subscribe to the most conservative of views. It’s no surprise these political plays come during the same session the state’s Republican lawmakers have systematically dismantled decades of work aimed at protecting individual civil liberties and bolstering equality.

These bold moves to dismantle the democratic process and discourage political participation show just why protections, such as those in the Voting Rights Act, are needed to begin with.

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