From Buncomb to Pasquotank, voter suppression in NC persists

Today’s news is full of stories about a Buncomb County NC elections official forced to resign after making racially inflammatory comments on The Daily Show. While this behavior goes beyond social norms, we must keep in mind that the sentiment is not unique. On the contrary – voter suppression efforts targeting people of color remain strong in many parts of North Carolina.

Pasquotank County North Carolina, home of Elizabeth City State University, has received national media attention in recent months over attempts to keep ECSU student Montravias King from voting and from running for city council because of his on-campus address.  SCSJ successfully represented Montravias King in hearings before the local and State Boards of Elections.

Montravias King, newly elected City Councilman in Elizabeth City NC

Montravias King, newly elected City Councilman in Elizabeth City NC

After the Pasquotank County Board ruled he could not vote or run for office, the State Board reversed that ruling, ensuring that college students throughout North Carolina retain the ability to vote and to run for office in the towns where they go to college. But in Pasquotank County, efforts to disenfranchise African-American voters started long before Montravias King came to ECSU. SCSJ has been representing African Americans trying to participate in the political process in Elizabeth City since 2008. Below is a brief overview of recent efforts to suppress African-American civic participation.

2007 – Elizabeth City Republican Party Chair Pete Gilbert successfully challenged the right to vote of several African-American Elizabeth City State University students who listed the school’s address as their permanent residence.

2008 – Mr. Gilbert challenged the residency of Kirk Rivers, one of 2 remaining African American City Council members in Elizabeth City, NC, after Mr. Rivers won the election against Mr. Gilbert’s wife. SCSJ successfully represented Councilman Rivers.  The Pasquotank County Board of Elections ruled that Mr. Rivers was not a resident of the City, and removed him from office.  On appeal, the North Carolina Superior Court overturned that ruling and he retained his seat on the City Council.  .

Kirk Rivers

Kirk Rivers

2013 – Mr. Gilbert challenged the voting eligibility of over 60 Elizabeth City State University students for using the college as their permanent address.  SCSJ successfully represented three of the students, who retained the right to vote. However, 57 students, some of whom may not have received notice of the hearing, were struck from the voting rolls because they did not  appear at the Pasquotank County Board of Elections hearing to defend their right to vote.  .

2013– Mr. Gilbert challenged Montravias King’s eligibility to run for city council due to his on-campus residence. Mr. Gilbert was successful at the local level, but SCSJ successfully appealed that decision to the State Board of Elections which unanimously overruled the County Board’s decision.

Montravias King with SCSJ staff attorney Clare Barnett

Montravias King with SCSJ staff attorney Clare Barnett

While Montravias King’s election to the City Council is cause for celebration, the deeper culture of African-American voter suppression in Elizabeth City is likely to remain. We must be vigilant to ensure that all eligible voters – particularly students and people of color – have equal access to participation in every election. SCSJ has fought for the rights of all voters in Elizabeth City since 2008, and will continue to advocate for the voting rights of all North Carolinians.

Article by SCSJ Communications Intern Madeline Anderson