County board to student candidate: you can vote (for now), but you can’t run for city council

By: - August 14, 2013 4:05 pm

As reported today in the Elizabeth City Daily Advance, the Pasquotank County Board of Elections has taken the first step towards a ruling that students living in a college dorm are not permanent residents — in this instance, for purposes of running for City Council. But the residency requirements for a candidate are the same as those for a voter.

When asked if he planned extensive challenges of student voters following the city election, County GOP Chair Pete Gilbert, who challenged the student-candidate’s residency, said he planned to “look at one-stop voters,” but declined further comment on the matter.

The full story is reprinted below:

Board: ECSU student cannot run
GOP board says King not a permanent resident
By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

The Republican-led Pasquotank County Board of Elections on Tuesday accepted a legal framework for disqualifying students living at Elizabeth City State University from voting in local elections.

On a party-line, 2-1 vote, the board ruled that ECSU student Montravias King had not proven his permanent residency at ECSU, and therefore was not eligible to run for an Elizabeth City City Council seat in the 4th Ward.

Pasquotank County GOP Chair Pete Gilbert challenged King’s candidacy earlier this month, and made his case to the board Tuesday. King was present and testified throughout the hearing; representing him was Clare Barnett, an attorney with the minority-advocacy group the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Barnett said she will appeal the case to the State Board of Elections.

After an hours-long hearing Tuesday, newly appointed board chair Bonnie Godfrey and Jimmy Ownley, both Republicans, told King they felt he hadn’t presented adequate documentation, such as a driver’s license and bills to his campus address, to establish his residency for candidacy purposes. But they also agreed with Gilbert’s central argument against King’s candidacy: that a residence hall is, by definition, not a permanent residence, given college students are not allowed to remain there year-round.

The residency requirements for a candidate are identical to those for a voter.

“They are not there a minimum of four months out of 12,” Gilbert said, citing ECSU generally requiring students to leave for Christmas and summer breaks.

King and his attorney argued he had established a strong presence in Elizabeth City, both in terms of physical address and community involvement.

“I’ve been a resident of this ward since I first entered ECSU … in 2009,” King said, adding the first vote he ever cast was in the 2009 city election. “I’m a firm believer that, wherever I live at, that’s where I participate.”

King, formerly of Snow Hill, said he has lived at ECSU and worked within Elizabeth City since 2009, and has taken summer school every year since he enrolled, including this summer. During summer school sessions, he lived at ECSU, and continued to receive his mail there. He said he’s been active on campus, including as president of the ECSU chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He also cited his involvement in community organizations such as the Food Bank of the Albemarle and the Elizabeth City Boys and Girls Club.

He dismissed Gilbert’s challenge as “frivolous.”

Barnett argued state law does not intend for the word “permanent” to be taken to mean “forever and ever.” Such an interpretation would suggest other highly mobile groups, such as U.S. Coast Guard personnel, also weren’t eligible to vote in local elections, she said.

She also argued General Statute 163-57 provided that “So long as a student intends to make the student’s home in the community where the student is physically present for the purpose of attending school … the student may claim the college community as the student’s domicile.”

Gilbert disputed her interpretation, arguing that a student would demonstrate that by getting an apartment or buying a house for year-round residency. He also argued King would have demonstrated his intent to establish permanent residency through carrying a driver’s license or other photo ID with an address on it, and making sure all his bills and personal documents were sent to Elizabeth City, rather than Snow Hill.

King was unable to provide a driver’s license during the hearing, saying he did not carry it because he had not driven in two years and did not own a vehicle. He instead offered documentation showing he had recently updated his driver’s license, and offered to show his student ID. Godfrey said it lacked an address and therefore wasn’t valid for the hearing’s purposes.

While neither Godfrey nor Ownley disputed King’s identity or his residence on campus for the last four years, they ultimately ruled he had not met the burden of proof for demonstrating his residency. They also expressed doubts that a residence hall could be considered a permanent residence.

“I just feel you haven’t shown me enough evidence that 1704 Weeksville Road is your permanent residence,” Godfrey said. “Also, the fact that you have no choice — that you must leave that residence — played a factor in that as well.”

Fellow Republican board member Jimmy Ownley similarly commented, “I just feel that 1704 Weeksville Road isn’t your permanent domicile.” Following the meeting, he confirmed the requirement students leave campus throughout the year factored into his decision.

William Skinner, the panel’s lone Democrat, sharply dissented with the other board members. He argued King had clearly shown ECSU was his permanent residence, supported by his right to vote in local elections. He urged the board to dismiss Gilbert’s challenge.

“If you are able to vote, you should be able to run for office, barring any restrictions against you, which we have found none,” Skinner said.

Gilbert praised the board’s decision, and said it calls into question the validity of votes cast by students registered at 1704 Weeksville Road. Asked if he planned extensive challenges of student voters following the city election, Gilbert said he planned to “look at one-stop voters,” but declined further comment on the matter.

He also stressed he encouraged college students to vote, but in their home towns and by absentee ballot, if necessary.

King said he plans to continue to run for office, and considers Gilbert’s challenge part of a broader Republican effort to discourage student voting.

“I don’t see this as personal, I see this as an attack on college students across North Carolina,” he said.

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Sharon McCloskey

Sharon McCloskey, former Courts, Law and Democracy Reporter for N.C. Policy Watch, writes about the courts and decisions that impact North Carolina residents. McCloskey also wrote for Lawyers Weekly and practiced law for more than 20 years. Follow her online at or @sharonmccloskey.