by Micah Wilkins, Editor-in-Chief
When a group of Republican legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly gathered in Raleigh in 2011 for the routine redistricting of the state that happens every decade, they knew what they were doing.
First, they effectively removed the city of Asheville from North Carolina’s 11th district. They shaped the 10th district so that it would take a scoop out of the 11th district to include Asheville. This, in turn, took away the Democratic majority that used to exist in the 11th district, dispersing the blue votes so that now, both the 10th and 11th districts are solid Republican districts.
Democrat Heath Shuler has chosen to step down from his position as Congressional Representative of the 11th district in light of the redistricting—there is no way that he could win the mostly Republican district now.
Secondly, during the redistricting of the state, legislators also changed the NC House districts, and split the campus of Warren Wilson in half. Part of the campus that is south of Warren Wilson Road is in House District 114 and commissioner district 1, while the other half is in House District 115 and commissioner district 2.
Because on-campus residents are all registered using one address (701 Warren Wilson Road) this has caused confusion at the polls since early voting began Oct. 18.
These issues surrounding voting have caused a great deal of confusion on campus, and, according to Asheville’s Register of Deeds, Drew Reisinger (a Democrat), that was the point.
“It seems like a very clear tactic,” said Reisinger, who has been working to get students and community members to the polls. “If you can create the confusion on campus that your vote doesn’t matter, you can keep students at home who are likely going to vote for Democrats.”
Oct. 31, almost two weeks since early voting had begun, the college was contacted by the Board of Elections who said that the 701 Warren Wilson Road address was no longer sufficient. The school had to provide the Board of Elections with the residence hall of every student who wanted to vote.
Between Oct. 18 and Oct. 31, 84 ballots that had been cast from people using the Warren Wilson address during the early voting period were now under question. After Oct. 31, the Board of Elections began telling polling places to give Warren Wilson residents provisional ballots, which are ballots given to people whose voting eligibility is unclear.
According to the election protection hotline of North Carolina, “typically they like to avoid giving people a provisional ballot” during early voting, simply because during early voting, if your eligibility is in question, you can register and cast your ballot all at the same time.
Furthermore, provisional ballots are far less likely to actually be counted. According to the United States Election Assistance Commission, between 25% and 49% of provisional ballots from North Carolina were counted in the 2010 federal election.
“We still had some people who voted early but I think it tapered off after that because they knew that if they waited, their ballot would be more likely to be counted,” said Cathy Kramer, Dean of Service.
The two different ballots handed out to students are almost identical, except for the races that differ between the two districts: the state House representatives and the county commissioners. For those who were given the wrong ballot during this early voting period, correct ballots should have been sent to their CPOs. Once the Board of Elections receives these correct ballots back in the mail they will be counted and tallied a week to ten days after the election. The official results are not tallied until the canvass is completed. However, the Board of Elections said that it will count most of the races on incorrect ballots, except for the House representative and the county commissioners.
The redistricting and the splitting of Warren Wilson campus confused even the Board of Elections, “which is amazing,” said Reisinger. “This is something totally new.”
The Board of Elections had been giving all Warren Wilson residents the same ballot for almost two weeks during early voting. According to Kramer, the college was also unaware that the redistricting would have an effect on students and their votes.
“We were aware that we were in two districts but we thought our students would all still vote with the same address,” she said. “We assumed that everyone would vote with the 701 Warren Wilson Road address and we weren’t told anything different.”
Duke University and North Carolina State University are two other schools who dealt with the same problem during the election. The schools had to give the polling places a list of where their students live on campus, but they were given more advance notice than Warren Wilson was, Kramer said.
“We as an institution want to advocate for students, but it’s your voting rights that are also what are important,” Kramer said. “We want to make sure you’re not reliant on the institution to vote. Fortunately we want very much for you to vote, but what if our administration didn’t have the same politics? They shouldn’t have to count on us sending a list for you to be able to vote.”
The confusion surrounding voting was only one of many obstacles facing Warren Wilson this election year.
“Ya’ll have a much harder time voting than anyone else has,” Reisinger said. “And that’s B.S.”
Kittredge Theatre, though it has been used in the past, is no longer a polling place. Instead, for this election, students had to vote at either the Bee Tree Fire Department (for residents on the south side of campus) or WD Williams Elementary School (for north side residents). Many students on campus do not have cars of their own, but fortunately the Service Program Office provided continuous shuttles to polling places on election day.
Despite the effort to get people to the polls, it is unclear how the confusion surrounding ballots and polling locations affected voter turnout among Warren Wilson students.
“I hate that it’s disillusioning kids so much about voting,” said Mary Malelu, Library Night Circulation Supervisor and Resource Sharing Assistant. “Because I think we’re kind of lucky to live in Asheville where there are so many progressive candidates that are working for real change.”
For a lot of students at Warren Wilson, this is the first election they can participate in, but unfortunately, it has proved to be difficult for many.
“We want people to feel empowered by it, not confused,” Kramer said.
The manipulation of the districts has led to threats of student disenfranchisement and threats to our voting rights in general. According to Reisinger, the redistricting is yet another example of “our legislators choosing who their constituents are instead of the constituent choosing their legislators. It makes for a less representative government that doesn’t benefit the people.”