NC bills could cut early voting, affect college students

by Michelle Saxton
Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Staff photo by Allison Potter 

Carter Jewell, a student voter at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress North Carolina, talk about proposed election-related bills recently filed by North Carolina lawmakers following a press conference outside the New Hanover County Library in downtown Wilmington on Monday, April 8.



Proposed election-related bills recently filed by North Carolina lawmakers could create longer lines for voting and discourage some college students from casting ballots, some college students, parents and elections officials say.

But the bills, which include proposals to cut some early voting days and ban dependency tax deductions for children registered to vote at a different address than their parents, would save money and equalize the playing field for state voters, Senate bill sponsors argue.

Under Senate Bill 667 parents could not claim a personal tax exemption on a child who registers to vote at a different address, such as college students.

“They live at home but they often will vote where they are going to school and their parents keep them on as a deduction, and also where they’re going to school and voting they don’t pay squat in taxes,” Sen. Bill Cook, a Republican from Beaufort County and one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said in a phone interview Friday, April 5. “They skew the results of elections in local areas …but they don’t have any skin in the game.”

“If you want to vote as a college student that’s great, I applaud it and I encourage it, but let’s do it right,” added Cook, who also represents Camden, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties. “If you’re going to live away from (your) parents and stand on your own two feet, fine – act like an adult.”

But Carter Jewell, a University of North Carolina Wilmington political science major, argued full-time college students do not make enough money to go out on their own. Her family lives in Wilmington but she lives in a different voting precinct.

Jewell said she has heard politicians speak on issues relevant to UNCW and wants to cast votes that affect her school.

“Some of them have been great proposals and some of them have been wildly outrageous, and I think if I hadn’t been able to vote for or against this what they would just do to my school without the students’ consent,” Jewell said Monday, April 8, after a Progress North Carolina news conference outside New Hanover County’s main library in downtown Wilmington. 

The U.S. Supreme Court in the 1979 Symm v. United States case upheld a Texas district court decision to bar a tax assessor-collector from using a questionnaire that would ask those registering to vote if they are college students and where they live while in college.

“The Supreme Court has ruled you can’t make students vote other than where they live,” Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress NC, said just before the news conference. “How is the legislature trying to get around this? They’re trying to impose a poll tax. They’re trying to basically tax their parents $2,500 more for their children voting where they’re legally allowed to vote.”

Cook said the bill has nothing to do with raising taxes but is about voter integrity. Cook, a former state House representative who was elected to the Senate last fall, said he won his Senate seat by a margin of 21 votes out of 87,000. He ran against Democrat Sen. Stan White.

“I became very aware very quickly of all the things that go into getting an honest and accurate vote,” Cook said. “My election really points out the value of each individual vote.”

College students living in dormitories who vote in their college localities may flip local elections, according to Voter Integrity Project of North Carolina information sent April 8 by the trans-partisan, volunteer organization’s executive director, Ret. U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jay N. DeLancy.

College students should have voting rights equal to those serving in the military, states VIP-NC, recommendations that include allowing “federal-only” ballots for students who want to vote at college with no effect on residency.

Senate Bills 666 and 721 and House Bill 451, also filed recently, would cut early voting times from 17 days to six or 10, depending on the bill, and SB 666 also would eliminate satellite early voting sites.

“It gives the appearance of saying we want this to be a closed process, something that we can control totally,” New Hanover County Board of Elections Secretary Geneva Reid said after the news conference. “If we lose the vote then we’ve lost the democracy.”

Both Reid and Jewell voted early last year, and Jewell said other students texted her on Election Day with concerns lines were two to three hours long.

Cook, who also sponsored SB 666 and co-sponsored SB 721, said he campaigned during each day of early voting and said while it was busy the first week and last few days it was like a “desert” in between.

“Most places you can send an absentee vote,” Cook said.

Cook and Sen. Ronald Rabin, R-Harnett, Johnston and Lee, and Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Carteret, Craven and Pamlico, sent a news release April 3 on Senate Bills 666 and 667, saying one day of early voting in North Carolina costs $98,000. 

“In these tough economic times, we need to be proactive in finding ways to save money,” the release said. 

Brenner sent a 2011 memo from North Carolina State Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett that said savings from fewer early voting sites could be offset by costs for employing additional Election Day poll workers, transitioning to an increased level of by-mail absentee voting, finding larger polling locations and buying more equipment to handle more voters. 

About 78 percent of North Carolina voters support early voting and 75 percent have voted early, Brenner said, citing results from a Public Policy Polling survey of 824 North Carolina voters in late March.

About 2.5 million North Carolinians voted early in 2012, Brenner said.

Steve Kelly, a New Hanover County unaffiliated voter, civil engineer and parent of a University of North Carolina “Tar Heel,” spoke at the news conference against the bills, citing long voting lines in Florida as an example.

“I want to be able to go anywhere I want in this country wearing this Tar Heel shirt, being proud to be a North Carolinian and not have to answer for some of the really unconscionable things that our legislators might have done,” Kelly said. “We all, regardless of our political affiliation, need to be behind an effort to make North Carolina a place where democracy works.”

email michelle@luminanews.com


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