By Renee DeHart, Staff Writer
This past August, Montravias King, a senior political science major at Elizabeth City State University, was denied the right to run for City Council based on his campus residency by the Pasquotank Board of Elections.
“A canary in the coalmine,” a reference to the practice of bringing canaries underground to test for gas leaks, is the phrase Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, used to describe the King case. It seems King has become North Carolina’s canary as his and others political rights are being challenged.
“The residency requirements for a candidate are the exact same residency requirements for voters,” said King in an interview with Maddow. “And I have been voting at the 1704 Weeksville road address as an enrolled student since 2009.”
The right to vote using campus residency has been an ongoing challenge for ECSU students. Pasquotank County Republican chairman Richard “Pete” Gilbert has been a major opponent of such measures. Gilbert had challenged multiple students on the issue and was rarely successful until he challenged King’s right to run for City Council.
Gilbert brought King to the local Board of Elections where in a 2-1 vote; the board chose to sustain the challenge.
Director of the Board of Elections in Pasquotank County, David Brown said n a telephone interview that the sustained challenge was “100 percent about his (King’s) residency.”
“After an hours-long hearing Tuesday, newly appointed board chair Bonnie Godfrey and Jimmy Ownley, both Republicans, told King they felt he hadn’t presented adequate documentation,” reports the Elizabeth City Daily Advance. “(Documentation) such as a driver’s license and bills to his campus address, to establish his residency for candidacy purposes. But they also agreed with Gilbert’s central argument against King’s candidacy: that a residence hall is, by definition, not a permanent residence, given college students are not allowed to remain there year-round.
King does plan to appeal the decision to the State Board of Elections. Representing him will be Clare Barnett from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. King is optimistic about the hearing, scheduled for September 3.
“It’s our constitutional right to vote where we attend school at,” said King.
If the decision is sustained after this point it could have a variety of effects.
“It could either discourage student voters,” said Brown. “Or it could excite them to come out in droves.”
For many North Carolinian students, the right to vote in the district they attend school now hangs in the balance. The ruling poses a threat to North Carolina students who use their campus addresses for voter registration. They may soon face difficulties at the polls.
This comes at a time when a new law signed by Governor Pat McCrory requires state ID’s for all voters, school ID’s not included.
Joshua Weil, a junior, criminal justice major, and president of the Guilford College Democrats, is passionate about Kings case.
“The fundamental right of being a citizen is at stake, and students should be riled by the possibility of losing this right,” said Weil, who has worked on six political campaigns. “One of the biggest challenges for registering voters is apathy.”
If the challenge against King is sustained, Weil plans to organize Guilford College students across party lines.
“This is not about Republican or Democrat,” said Weil. “This is about a fundamental right to help decide the laws that will affect you.”
Editor’s Note: At the aforementioned September 3 meeting, King was given permission by the State Board of Elections to run for city council. The decision was unanimous.