by Micah Wilkins, Editor-in-Chief
Last month, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory signed a bill that will bring a slew of changes to the voting process in the state. The law is a 49-page, convoluted document.
“It’s Frankenstein,” said lawyer Sarah Zambon, who is a voting rights advocate and board member for the League of Women Voters’ Asheville/Buncombe County chapter. “We’ve taken the worst pieces from every state and put them into one law.”
One of the most significant changes the law will bring about is the mandate that all voters must present a photo ID, such as a passport or driver’s license. This provision will go into effect in 2016.
Many of the other provisions in the law, however, will go into effect starting in 2014:
- No more same day registration
- A shorter early voting period (reduced from 17 to 10 days)
- Voters using absentee ballots need signatures from two witnesses or a notary public
- If a voter arrives at a voting location in the wrong precinct, they will not be given the opportunity to vote with even a provisional ballot
- Voters can now challenge any other voter in the county
The purpose of this law is to decrease instances of voter fraud, according to McCrory.
“Common practices like boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed require photo ID and we should expect nothing less for the protection of our right to vote,” said the Governor after signing the bill.
However, according to the New York Times, out of the 7 million ballots cast in North Carolina in 2012, there were only 121 allegations of voter fraud. Thus, some other reasons must be prompting the increased strictness of the voting process, said Zambon.
“There’s a concerted effort to prevent college students from voting statewide,” she said, “especially toward schools that are more liberal or have more minorities.”
The new changes to the voting rules bring about greater obstacles for voting especially for students, according to Dean of Service Cathy Kramer, who became involved in student voting rights after last year’s election.
“That’s the desired outcome, that it will be too much work to vote,” Kramer said.
Not only has the new law made student IDs illegitimate as a proper form of identification for voting, but it has also targeted minority groups. According to a State Board of Elections study, 318,000 of the 6.4 million voters in North Carolina do not have a state-issued photo ID and African-Americans are a disproportionate share of this group, making up a third of all North Carolinians without IDs.
This new voting law is only one piece of the puzzle that has lead to what the New York Times has dubbed the “Decline of North Carolina” in an editorial published over the summer.
“While many states are moving toward making it easier and utilizing new technology, North Carolina is going backwards and that’s where the problem is,” Zambon said.
Since Pat McCrory took his position as North Carolina’s new governor in January, the state is now entirely Republican-controlled for the first time since the Reconstruction era. Before his election, in 2011, the Republican-dominated North Carolina General Assembly gathered in Raleigh to perform routine redistricting of the state, and removed the city of Asheville from the 11th district, and instead drew the lines so that the 10th district would include the progressive city. This maneuver dispersed the Democratic votes in both districts, and thus weakened the blue vote, but also, it split the campus of Warren Wilson College into two. 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.
This caused some confusion at the polls last Fall, because all residents previously all had one address: 701 Warren Wilson Road. As a result of this, the Republican candidate for the Buncombe County commissioner position in District 2, who lost by a mere 18 votes, protested many ballots that came from Warren Wilson which, according to her, were counted illegally, on the basis that many voters were given incorrect ballots during the early voting period.
“The youth vote tends to be more liberal,” said Kramer. “And some of it gets back to inherent stereotypes and prejudices. We heard some of this in the last election: ‘You’re young, what do you know?’”
One of the other fears is that college students are voting both at school and at home. However, this fear is based on no real evidence, according to Kramer.
The case to discount the Warren Wilson votes was heard in November by the County Board of Elections, and the candidate’s protest was denied.
Unfortunately, though, attempts at student disenfranchisement are happening state-wide.
“We’re one of many stories,” Kramer said.
From taking away the convenient polling place on Appalachian State University’s campus to disqualifying Elizabeth City State University student Montravias King for running for city council in Pasquotank County, the GDP attacks on students’ voting rights have popped up throughout North Carolina.
Zambon will be having an informative discussion tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Jensen 305 about ways that Warren Wilson students can become informed and involved when it comes to their voting rights.
“The first thing is talking to folks and getting them the right information,” Zambon said. “The big goal is to prevent as many problems on election day as we can. Nobody is on the ground right now explaining to people what the law does. No one is explaining to them what your rights are as a voter. It’s an important thing to do. [The law] is taking away people’s civil rights and that’s discouraging.”