North Carolina Students Fight Back Against Voter Suppression’ New Position
Elizabeth City, N.C.—On September 19, early voting opened in Pasquotank County, home to Elizabeth City State University, an HBCU (Historically Black College or University). Earlier this year, ECSU Senior Montravias King initially had his application to run for City Council denied by the Pasquotank County Board of Elections. While King had been a campus resident, and had voted in Elizabeth City for the past three years, the Board of Elections cited residency issues as the justification.
The ensuing legal battle between King and the Board of Elections gained national attention and was even featured on the Rachel Maddow Show. Ultimately, the State Board of Elections overturned the initial ruling, allowing King to run. However, the Pasquotank County Elections Board challenge to his candidacy is just another incident in a long history of suppressing Black student votes and targeting Black elected officials.
Enthusiastic students from Elizabeth City State University held a march from campus to the early voting site last Thursday, September 19 – the first of early voting. Eager to take advantage of Same Day Registration, the students brought documents and identification. However, the all-white poll workers (Elizabeth City is less than 40% white) immediately acted hostile towards the students. Outside, campaigners for the white mayoral candidate proceeded to tell students that they should not be allowed to vote.
When students attempted to register and vote, seven students were turned away because of what poll workers deemed “improper identification.” Students who presented a residence assignment from the University, which included their name and dorm number, were told that this agreement was not a valid form of identification. After arguing with poll workers, students were told that if they used their dorm assignment papers, they could “expect their votes to be challenged.” Additionally, poll workers asked students, “Do you plan on abandoning your homes?” This question was used to establish if the university address was indeed their residence. Of course, the U.S. Supreme Court already ruled, in the 1979 case of Symm vs. United States, that college students have the Constitutional right to vote where they attend school. However, those working the polls in Elizabeth City are still trying to silence students who want to vote in their local elections and affect the communities they live in.
On Sunday, September 22, the NC Vote Defenders went to ECSU to provide training on election protection and poll monitoring. Participants included The Links, a local women’s faith-based organization, students in the Elizabeth City University NAACP Youth and Student Chapter, and members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
Starting today, The Links will begin monitoring polls to advocate and document instances of suppression at the only early voting site in the county. Additionally, students are organizing another march to the polls. They are also gearing up to monitor the precincts near campus on Election Day. The NC Vote Defenders are helping to organize students and provide training for election protection work here at ECSU. Vote Defenders will also be working at NC State, Appalachian State, and UNC-Charlotte. Just two days into early voting, we have already encountered mass voter suppression. Students and youth are organizing to protect the right of students to vote. We will not stand for this.
Bryan is an organizer with the NC Vote Defenders. Follow him on Twitter @BoPerlmutter.