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Senators Seek Modification of Student Voters Residency

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State Senators Bill Cook, Norman Sanderson and Ronald Rabin have introduced an election reform law that will encourage college students to vote from their home-of-record instead of from their temporary college addresses.

These Senate bills come after a Buncombe County Commissioner race that was flipped by student voting. The case, being appealed to the NC Supreme Court, involved students who were notified after they had voted. They were invited to change their votes, reflecting their actual dorm address instead of the campus mail facility address they had always used before. Those changes of address reversed one Commissioner race and also flipped party control of the Commission.

“We are not saying any laws were broken,” said Jay DeLancy, of the Voter Integrity Project – NC, “but that race showed how easily college students can be manipulated like pawns and these bills will protect students from such abuse.”

The two bills (SB 666 and SB667) would stop short of barring students from voting at their temporary college addresses, but would require the students to pay their taxes to their college community instead of from their permanent address and they would also no longer be deductible on their parents’ state taxes.

“We view this bill as a way of holding people responsible for their actions,” said DeLancy. “If these young adults want to remain on their parents’ taxes, then they would need to vote by absentee ballot from their home address.”

SB 667, called “Equalize Voter Rights,” brings college student voting rights back in line with other so-called “sojourners” (teachers, vacationers, dual-residence retirees, business owners, military, etc.) covered in election law.

“No class of citizens gets to vote from a temporary address that is not also their home of-record,” said DeLancy, “but the courts have quietly made an exception so students can do this even though the vast majority of them never stay in that college town after school.”

NCGS § 163-57 (7) specifically denies such a residency option for “teachers” who have no long-term intention of remaining in their school’s district, by mandating that, “for purposes of registration and voting [teachers] shall be considered residents of the . . . election district in which their parents or other relatives reside.”

North Dakota has a similar law that changes the residence of new voters to the jurisdiction in which they register, but it left alone the income tax question. The measure was brought to light during a contentions college-improvement bond election that was being heavily promoted by campus activists, registering out-of-state students to vote in North Dakota.

“The students all still voted in that election,” said DeLancy, “but they voted by absentee ballot, like everybody else.”

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