When students choose to attend college in another city, they become a part of that town. Students living on campus are impacted by the decisions of elected officials in the surrounding community. In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled in Symm v. United States that students have a right to vote in their college town, yet Richard “Pete” Gilbert, Republican Party chairman of Pasquotank County in North Carolina, apparently hasn’t gotten the memo.
Montravias King, a student at Elizabeth City State University in Pasquotank County, had been registered to vote at his campus address since 2009. But when he filed the paperwork to run for city council, Gilbert successfully challenged his eligibility before the County Board of Elections, arguing that a college dorm is a temporary residence and therefore insufficient for residency requirements.
In North Carolina, the requirements to run for office are the same as those to vote, and Gilbert plans to file additional challenges against other ECSU students’ eligibility.
Despite the obvious illegality of Gilbert’s actions, it could be months or even years before a court steps in to amend the situation. In the meantime, citizens could be effectively stripped of their most important right; if you can’t vote in the community where you go to school, a majority of students will be probably be unable to vote. It’s obvious why Republican officials in North Carolina seem to have “prevent college students from voting” at the top of their legislative to-do list this year: only 36 percent of people 29 and under who voted in the 2012 presidential election cast their ballots for Mitt Romney. We can’t be trusted to vote for them, so we shouldn’t be allowed to vote at all. Democracy at its finest.
The Voting Rights Act used to be a safeguard to ensure citizens weren’t prevented from voting in any election due to delays in the legal process or voter suppression. It required states and counties with the worst documented histories of voter suppression to submit all voting laws for judicial review before they could be enacted. The Supreme Court, however, wiped that list of states and counties clean and suspended the pre-clearance process this summer, and now counties in North Carolina are able to prevent students from voting in 2013 in a way they were not allowed to in 2012.
Arizona — along with some states in the South and parts of New York and California — was also on the list of states whose voting laws required pre-clearance, and Republicans are in charge of writing Arizona’s election laws. It’s not overly paranoid to imagine that such rules could be on their way here next.
Zoey Kotzambasis, vice president of UA College Republicans, said in an email that she doesn’t think a law mandating an off-campus address to vote would have that much of an impact at the University of Arizona “because most students who live on campus are from out of town and don’t even register to vote here anyway.”
While that reasoning seems questionable given that 30 percent of our student body hails from out-of-state and would have to register in Tucson, Kotzambasis says she opposes the policy on a personal level.
“I also believe that the right to vote — just like all rights — doesn’t end on campus,” she said.
The president of UA Young Democrats, Nicholas Mahon, agreed, but he was also careful to point out that it isn’t just on-campus student voters who are being targeted in North Carolina right now.
“The sad truth is, Republicans are trying to screw over students no matter where they live,” he said. “If you don’t believe that, you’re not paying enough attention.”
But even as students seem united to retain their voting rights in their college towns, Republicans’ dismal performance among 18-29 year old voters continues to encourage Republican officials to suppress the college vote. With the enforcement mechanism of the Voting Rights Act gone, the important question seems to be: What is left to stop them?
Jacqui Oesterblad is a junior studying global studies, political science and Middle Eastern and North African studies. Follow her on Twitter.com/@joesterblad.