Senate Bill 666 “Election Law Changes” may include one or two laudable suggestions (namely the elimination of Same Day Registration), but in trying to reinforce voter registration rules for college students, the legislation stumbles into other problems.
Now before the North Carolina General Assembly, SB 666 would prohibit state income tax dependency deductions for qualifying children who have registered to vote at an address different from their parents’ residence. Under state law, college students must register at their permanent address, which usually is the family home, not a dorm room.
In other words, SB 666 seeks to change tax policy through an election bill. Thus, it is unenforceable and potentially creates at least two different classes of young voters. SB 666 also would apply only to North Carolina citizens, given that we have no control over other states’ tax laws, so out-of-state students and their parents would not be affected by the legislation. SB 666 would also cause confusion because divorced parents whose children reside and register at one parent’s house but are claimed legally by the other parent as a dependent would fall under this bill.
Civitas believes that North Carolina election laws, policies and processes are in dire need of reform. But reforms must be effective, and directed at the real problems. NC residency issues have been ignored, but not in the statute books: NCGS 163-57 addresses residency issues that pertain to college students. North Carolina’s difficulties in this area are a result of the current State Board of Elections treating college students as a special class of voters. The new legislation, however, would only add to the problem by setting college students apart once again.
Furthermore, the bill addresses observers and precinct judges in such a way as to discourage participation in the process altogether. In recent years there have been numerous problems with the way observers have been treated at polling places (especially in Wake County). SB 666 suggests that if the local elections board determines that a precinct official expels or limits an observer without cause, the official’s pay would be withheld. Apart from withholding wages being outside of the law, we believe that it would be hard for any one of us to stand up to this type of scrutiny and second-guessing of our work. It is not easy for the local boards of election to fill these jobs as it is; adding a possible penalty will just make finding elections staff even more difficult.
SB 666 also seeks to eliminate all satellite One-Stop Voting stations in all 100 counties. But such “one size fits all” solutions seldom work. NC counties are of widely different sizes and have different voting patterns. Large counties would have an especially difficult time in suddenly adjusting to the elimination of the satellite sites.
Civitas agrees that North Carolina has huge problems with our elections – and college student voter registration is just one of them. Rather than pass SB 666, North Carolina should first craft a residency law that is easily understood by the electorate. Another good step would be to better inform young voters of their responsibilities: Instead of voter registration drives in high schools, the Boards of Elections should be required to conduct voter education drives.
The main sponsors – Sens. Bill Cook (R-Beaufort), Norm Sanderson (R-Carteret) and Ronald Rabin (R-Harnett) – may have had good intentions, but that isn’t enough. Legislation must also be well thought out and carefully crafted. Unfortunately, SB 666 is unenforceable and unwieldy, and could result in hurting the overall effort to improve the voting process. Lawmakers need to go back to the drawing board to draft a better law to address the many problems prevalent in the North Carolina electoral system.
For more on this issue, read the letter from a former county elections board official to the sponsoring senators.