Should Improperly Validated Warren Wilson Students be allowed to Vote for the Buncombe County Commissioners?

<strong>By Jane Bilello, ATPAC Chair

The recounts in North Carolina race for the Buncombe County Commissioner race and the Lieutenant Governor Race are costly to both the citizens and the candidates.

The issue in the District 2 Commissioner race involves properly validating provisional votes – ballots cast during early voting or on Election Day by voters who cannot show that they are registered in the applicable county or voters who voted in the wrong precinct on Election Day. The provisional votes in question came from the Warren Wilson college students.

Ignoring arguments presented at the canvass to ascertain how many of the Warren Wilson students are actually residents of NC and District 2, the Buncombe County Board of Elections chose to proceed with the canvass knowing full well that a recount burdens the county.  The only ones to profit from a law suit are the lawyers. Candidates are additionally burdened with legal fees. Instead of properly validating residency at the canvass, it will now be kicked to the courts should a lawsuit ensue.  However, in a more positive move, the Board did vote to segregate the Warren Wilson ballots from the rest, in case the dispute turns into legal action.

So, what defines NC and District 2 voter eligibility? Article VI of the NC Constitution defines voter eligibility as, “Any person who has resided in the State of North Carolina for one year and in the precinct, ward, or other election district for 30 days next preceding an election, and possesses the other qualifications set out in this Article, shall be entitled to vote at any election held in this State.”

Under North Carolina law, and defined on the Warren Wilson website, to qualify for in-state tuition for a given term you must prove: that you established your domicile in North Carolina twelve months before the beginning of that term (first day of classes), and that you have maintained that domicile for at least twelve continuous months.

Also on the UNCC website, The North Carolina State Residence Classification Manual (the Manual) lists the following considerations which may be significant in determining (“domiciliary”) intent:

· living or not living in the home of one’s parents
· voter registration and voting
· location of jury duty
· registering, licensing, and maintaining a motor vehicle
· driver’s license or state ID card
· location of permanent employment
· filing of North Carolina state income tax return
· places where one resides during periods between academic sessions
· location of personal property
· property tax assessment
· ownership of residential real property that is one’s primary residence (including maintenance and payment of expenses       associated with the property)
· place from which one graduated from high school
· place of residence prior to enrollment in an institution of higher education
· sources of one’s financial support
· memberships in professional associations, unions, civic organizations, etc.
· citizenship or immigration status

The Board of Elections used a North Carolina Voter Statute to define residency as where one lays one’s head at night to justify proceeding with the canvass.

Of the 1,000 students attending Warren Wilson, 900 are traditional undergraduates and 90% of them live on campus.  The student body is represented in 45 states, the top feeders being Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Florida, Georgia, and New York.  In addition, representation comes from 20 countries.  20% or 200 come from North Carolina. How many of these students who cast ballots are legal residents of NC and District 2? Nobody knows yet, but the Board of Elections doesn’t seem to care.

The BOE denied the tabulation protest to delay the canvas that would have allowed more time to research residency.  The delay may very well have avoided the invalidation of legitimate votes because a handful of provisional votes were not validated properly.

This is also not a redistricting issue.  The physical address of Warren Wilson is in District 1, not 2. All student mailboxes are located at 701 Warren Wilson Road in District 1. Student dorm rooms can change each semester.   The BOE took it upon themselves to move 199 students and faculty to District 2 based on a “where they lay their head” principle from NC election laws to allow the canvass to go forward.

Why do statutes drafted by nameless, faceless bureaucrats trump our NC Constitution and NC law?  Why are the criteria for in-state tuition OK to use when charging out-of-state students more tuition but not OK when validating residency for elections? We the citizens Buncombe County may not all be lawyers, but we’re not stupid. This stinks.

“The residents of Buncombe County deserve to be treated fairly and not have their nearly 20,000 votes basically invalidated because a handful of provisional votes were NOT validated properly!”  So aptly put by Christina Kelley G. Merrill, who dropped to third place after the student voters were allowed, trailing by 13 votes!

These students voted here and their votes will change the course of history in this area for years to come, but most of them will go home (to their primary residence) after graduation and never return to Buncombe County again.

What does a recount for Lt Governor entail? A recount will cost the Dan Forest campaign upwards of $250,000 to dispatch a team of attorneys into the field to monitor the process and protect the integrity of the ballots and of Dan’s hard fought victory. It costs his opponent, nothing.

Linda Coleman could simply ask for the recount and walk away, with no regard to the financial and human cost it requires of the counties and of the candidate.

Even liberal outlets are now openly discouraging Coleman from seeking a recount. The DailyKos reported Saturday that there is only a slim chance of a recount overturning a statewide race in NC.

If she pursues a recount, it stands to reason she might be planning some sort of frivolous law suit or two trying to cast a doubt on the integrity of the election itself. She threatened to do that last week when she announced her intention to file suit, asking to change election law after the election had been completed.

She asked that people who tried to register to vote on Election Day be allowed to have their ballots counted, even though NC does not allow same-day registration on election day. This desperate action would have the effect of changing the election law after the election has been completed for the sole purpose of producing more votes for her campaign.

This was tried before (by Presidential candidate Rick Perry when he was trying to qualify for the primary ballot) and it failed after going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Her suit will go nowhere, but might delay the outcome of the race for an indefinite period of time.

The same-day registration laws needs to be abolished. It does not give the election boards time to adequately research the voters’ registration. Likewise, photo ID would cut down tremendously on the potential for fraud.  There were approximately 50,000 provisional ballots cast statewide during this election. Yet, after the canvassing meetings Friday, it appears that only 26,000 or so were counted. The rest were rejected due to the lack of sufficient evidence to show the voter was registered to vote. Clearly the provisional system needs to be fixed, and a photo ID for voters would greatly help.

To me, the moral of this story is in the words of Comrad Josef Stalin. “It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.”  If many of you are squirming in your chairs after reading this, that’s great. These voter issues are a few of many. Our newly elected officials have a mandate from the citizens to untangle the mess from the last one hundred years!. Demand that every legitimate vote is counted.  </strong>

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