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When College Students Lose the Right to Vote

Last week, NBC news anchor Rachel Maddow aired a live broadcast from Elizabeth City, N.C., about the increasing limitations on voting rights by the state and local governments. The episode is the latest—and perhaps most intense—in national news media scrutiny of Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led General Assembly.

Maddow’s broadcast focused on Elizabeth City State University student Montravius King’s attempt to run for city council in Elizabeth City. Because King’s parents are not residents of Elizabeth City, he’s considered ineligible to run for office, even though he lives there at least nine months out of the year. But Maddow emphasizes that the implication of the Elizabeth City Board of Election’s decision regarding King might be even larger.

The board’s decision on whether King can run for office in Elizabeth City is based on whether he can register to vote there.

“That’s what makes this a big story,” Maddow said in the broadcast.

If the Board of Elections decides against King, it will set the precedent that North Carolina college students cannot vote in the communities where they attend school—and pay sales tax, work and otherwise contribute to the community.

Maddow also pointed out that King’s case is particularly poignant, since Elizabeth City State is a Historically Black College, and black students have already fought—and won—the battle for voting rights in North Carolina. King’s struggle is a “fight over lost ground,” she said.

Maddow doesn’t mention Senate Bill 667, which was introduced in April as the “Equalizer Voter Rights” bill, and disincentivizes students to register to vote in their college homes by taking away their parents’ tax exemption if they do so. The bill has not been voted on since it was filed.

Maddow also had a segment on some dubious voting policies in Watauga County, where Appalachian State University is located. Those policies were first reported by the Winston-Salem Journal.

The national media attention is at least part of what North Carolina activists have hoped for since the General Assembly began to roll out restrictive bills this spring. But one has to wonder how potential out of state applicants—whose tuition is a necessary supplement to shrinking public schools’ budgets—felt after seeing Maddow’s segment. Will qualified students be scared away from North Carolina by the threat of disenfranchisement?


This article originally appeared in Campus BluePrint a student publication at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill that receives funding and training as a member of the Generation Progress journalism network.

Grace Tatter is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @gracetatter.

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