For years, the chairman of Pasquotank County’s Republican Party, Richard Gilbert went out of his way to challenge as many voters as possible at the historically black public college Elizabeth City State University. More recently, Gilbert challenged ECSU student Montravius King’s candidacy for city council based on the argument that he has always used. Gilbert claimed that since King lives in a dorm, he doesn’t meet the residency requirement. King who has resided in Elizabeth City since enrolling at Elizabeth City State University in 2009, would be the first student elected to the council, if he is elected.
The Pasquotank County Board of Elections accepted Gilbert’s argument and disqualified King’s candidacy. Interesting to note, when Gilbert challenged King’s candidacy, Sue Myrick of the John W. Pope Citivas Institute found time in her schedule to attend the meeting.
After the decision, Montravius King appealed to the state board of elections. Aside from King’s candidacy there was much more at stake with this decision.
Since the qualifications for candidacy on the city council and for voting are the same, this decision was seen as a first step toward disenfranchising all students living in ECSU dorms.
Richard Gilbert has extensive experience challenging the voting rights of ECSU students. He was behind previous attempts to disenfranchise Elizabeth City State University students by arguing they don’t really meet the residency requirement. Gilbert got 56 ECSU students dropped from the voting rolls earlier this year based on this very argument. That makes Myrick’s attendance at the meeting especially curious. Obviously, she wasn’t there to guide Gilbert through the process. The Institute for Southern Studies has a more plausible explanation.
Myrick’s presence at King’s hearing has raised questions about Pope’s involvement in efforts to roll back voting rights in North Carolina, which had made great strides in boosting turnout in recent years.
Montravius King had every reason to be confident the State Board would reverse Pasquotank County’s decision because the question of whether a dorm room meets the residency requirement was already settled law in North Carolina. At the same time, Republicans in North Carolina have a special way of looking at laws protecting voting rights and for that matter any other rights that benefit people beyond the Tea Party/Republican base. If given an opening, right wing ideologues will run with the opportunity to restrict certain votes as much as possible.
That was exactly what Richard Gilbert wanted to do with the earlier decision. He told the AP that he intended to “take this show on the road“, following the county board’s decision. Of course, Gilbert’s road led to ECSU but never has made it to the predominantly white and private Mid-Atlantic Christian College. Perhaps Gilbert believes that white students living in dorms are some how different from black students living in dorms when it comes to the question of residency.
Now that the state board has reversed the ruling, eligible voters who are students living in dorms at public colleges and were therefore on Richard Gilbert’s radar can breathe a little bit easier. Voting remains a challenge because of restrictions ranging from the sort of ID that’s accepted, to reduced voting hours and in some cases out of the way voting precincts.
And don’t be surprised if Gilbert and the John W. Pope Civitas Institute find yet another act to take on their student vote suppression road show.
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