First they were supposed to vote early -- in a nightclub. Then students, employees, and faculty at North Carolina's Appalachian State University were supposed to vote early a mile from the farthest edge of campus, in a county building that had little parking. Then, after students filed a lawsuit, a state judge intervened, saying that the county board of election's decision to end early voting in the on-campus student union -- after eight years of allowing it -- could have no purpose but to disenfranchise students and was unconstitutional. That decision, however, was not the final word. It was put on hold by an appeals court, and then the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
By that time, the Watauga County Board of Elections had decided to restore on-campus early voting -- a practice it had eliminated by a partisan vote pushed by the board's Republican majority. Appalachian State is the largest employer in Watauga County, and its students make up roughly 40 percent of the county's population, but their preference for Democratic candidates does not jibe with the rest of the county's Republican tilt. In 2012, about 35 percent of the county's early votes were cast at the Appalachian State student union.
But after all the chaos, it turns out that Appalachian State students are the lucky ones: They are some of the only students in North Carolina who will be able to vote early on campus this year. Early voting sites have been eliminated on college campuses across North Carolina and the South, part of a broader effort by local elections officials and state lawmakers to erect new barriers to voting. The new policies, which run the gamut from shortened early voting periods to strict voter ID requirements, disproportionately affect young voters -- and especially youth of color.