When Montravias King, a senior at North Carolina’s historically black Elizabeth City State University, showed up at a hearing before the Pasquotank County Board of Elections in August to defend his bid for a city council seat, he and SCSJ staff attorney Clare Barnett faced off against Richard “Pete” Gilbert, the local Republican Party chair.
Gilbert was there to challenge King’s residency qualifications, arguing that because the student lives in a campus dormitory he’s not a permanent resident of Elizabeth City and therefore does not have the right to hold local office — even though he’s lived in, volunteered in, and voted in Pasquotank County since 2009. Earlier this year, Gilbert also got 56 ECSU students dropped from the voter rolls for registering at their campus address, but he has not mounted similar challenges to student voters at Mid-Atlantic Christian University, a largely white private school also in Elizabeth City.
The local elections board sided with Gilbert, and issued an order barring King from the ballot. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has filed an appeal with the state elections board, saying the ruling violates equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. The hearing is set for Tuesday, September 3 at 1PM. The decision will have important implications for the voting rights of students across North Carolina, since residency requirements for running for office and casting a ballot are the same.
While the hearing is slated to begin at 1PM, a coalition of voting rights groups including Rock the Vote, Common Cause NC, and Democracy NC are holding a rally to support Montravias King outside the State Board of Elections beginning at 12:30PM.