Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story about an unusual voting rights lawsuit in North Carolina. College students allege that North Carolina’s voter I.D. laws disproportionately limit access to voting by young voters (ages 18-21), and particularly affect college students who arrive from out-of-state, and who therefore lack North Carolina drivers’ licenses.
One of the signature elements of the new voter suppression effort is the removal of student I.D.s from the list of acceptable forms of I.D. This reflects a general assumption that young college voters will be liberals. In some communities, the motivation is more complicated.
For example, in Waller County, Texas, the population of the largely rural county is sharply segregated by race and geographic location. The inhabitants of Prairie View (and the students attending Prairie View A&M University) are more likely to be African-American than not, while the inhabitants of the remainder of the county are disproportionately white. Therefore, in Waller County, possession of a college I.D. very roughly correlates with race. As a consequence, the embattled segregationists in the county have historically resorted to tactics intended to suppress voting by Prairie View A&M students, including threats of legal prosecution of claims of voting residency by students, removal of polling places and early voting opportunities on campus, suppression or destruction of voter registration records, and so on.
This tradition of suppressing African-American voting through mistreatment of voters at historically black colleges and universities is not mentioned by the recent story in the Times (which notes that voting sites have been removed from the Winston-Salem State University campus, but fails to mention that WSSU is a historically black university). But in point of fact, race is an important element of the story of youth vote suppression in North Carolina as well as Texas. In 2013, the North Carolina Board of Elections cancelled the voter registrations of 56 students at Elizabeth City State University (a historically black college in Pasquotank County) for no other reason than the fact that the voters had listed their college campus addresses as their voting residences. The county chair of the Republican Party was the person challenging the registrations, and pretty clearly targeted just the voters with university addresses.