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N. Carolina bill prompts voter rights debate

One of the proposed changes eliminates same-day voter registration

Students from North Carolina could face difficulty voting in their home state if legislation passes removing a tax credit for familities whose children vote from outside of the state.

The bill, introduced by state legislators, has prompted outcry from opponents who allege the measures are designed to stifle college student voting.

Titled the Equalize Voter Rights Act, the bill is included in a larger omnibus package that would shorten early voting and end same-day voter registration. The legislation is sponsored by Republican state senators, who control a majority of seats in the chamber, and similar bills were introduced in the North Carolina House of Representatives.

If enacted, the measures would eliminate a state income tax deduction of up to $2,500 per child for families with dependent children if those children register to vote outside of their families’ precinct or register vehicles outside of North Carolina. State Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, wrote in a statement that the bill would save money for the state, adding that early voting costs North Carolina’s government $98,000 per day, North Carolina news station WRAL reported April 3.

Associate Professor of Political Science Wendy Schiller said the bill is part of a broader Republican strategy implemented since 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president. She noted that younger voters increasingly lean Democratic — New York Times exit polls showed 60 percent of 18-29 year-olds voted for Obama last November — and that young voter turnout has been rising in recent years.

This trend poses a problem for Republicans because people tend to develop a long-term preference for one party after voting twice for that party’s candidates, Schiller said. She added that the turnout of young voters could be strong enough to “win a close race.”

Schiller described North Carolina’s proposed limits on early voting as likely “proxy” restrictions on low-income and African-American voting because working-class families tend to vote in the evenings and African-American churches often take their members to vote on Sunday. She said it is unlikely that the tax measure “would pass constitutional muster” under the U.S. Constitution’s due process clause.

Seventy percent of student respondents to the The Herald’s fall poll said they planned to vote in the 2012 presidential election. Ten percent of students said they planned on voting in Rhode Island and 60 percent said they planned on voting in other states, the poll found.

Brown students from North Carolina voiced mixed feelings about the proposed legislation. Annie Carlson ’14 said the tax proposal “doesn’t really solve any problems and definitely causes” new ones, adding she is concerned about “unintended consequences” if the measures are enacted. Carlson said she suspects legislators have ulterior motives for the measures. Most of Carlson’s friends go to college in North Carolina and would be unaffected by the measure, she said.

Gabe Brotzman ’13, who also hails from North Carolina, voiced tentative support for the bills but said the potential fiscal savings did not motivate his support for the measures. The tax measure makes “common sense,” he said, because individuals who choose to participate in a state’s political process should be treated as legal residents of that state for tax purposes. The limitations on early voting should be adopted if data show that “no one goes at these times and we’re wasting money,” Brotzman added.

If passed by both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, the bills would go into effect Jan. 1, 2014.

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