Article VI Section 2 of the North Carolina Constitution lays out basic voter qualifications, stating: “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 ... shall be entitled to vote at any election held in this State.”
According to the State Constitution, an out-of-state student has a legitimate right to vote in North Carolina as long as they have resided here for a year.
To be clear, attaining legal residency for tuition purposes is a completely separate process. The requirements are more rigorous as students must prove their intent and ability to live in North Carolina beyond the scope of attending school.
A student from another state is legally allowed to vote in North Carolina even if they are not considered residents for the purpose of tuition. This is an important distinction because virtually all students would qualify for in-state tuition if the requirements were the same as for voting eligibility, which would make higher out-of-state fees irrelevant.
Barring out-of-state students from voting could also violate the U.S. Constitution. The Privileges and Immunities Clause in Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution states that: “The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.”
Essentially, this clause prevents states from discriminating against citizens of different states, which is the reason we have such basic freedoms as interstate travel in the U.S.
By banning out-of-state students from voting, the North Carolina legislature would be denying the right to vote for certain students based only on their state of origin, arguably violating the Privileges and Immunities Clause.
Violation of federal law could result in reduced federal funding and increased legal costs, which would ultimately come out of the pockets of the North Carolina taxpayers.
Even if we dismiss the discussion of constitutionality altogether, limiting voting rights for out-of-state students is economically irresponsible.
Already mentioned is the possibility of increased cost to taxpayers, but more importantly is the risk of reducing the out-of-state student population and the revenue these students bring to the state.
North Carolina is a hub of higher education with out-of-state students playing a significant role in the University systems and the economy in general.
For example, the higher fees for out-of-state students help subsidize the UNC system and allow in-state students to attend our great universities at highly reduced costs.
Out-of-state students bring more tourism, increasing business for our hotels and restaurants, and contribute to the labor supply and job market as well.
The right to vote is the foundation for political action and involvement, so to ban out-of-state student voting is to strip these students of their most basic method of protecting their interests and voicing their opinions.
Out-of-state students rely on the North Carolina state government to decide on issues that have tangible impacts on their lives. It is the state government that oversees the UNC system, budgets school funding and sets tax policies.
These students are future residents, investors, employers and property owners for North Carolina, so taking away their right to vote ignores their significant role as constituents and stakeholders in state policies.
Chris Donahue and Ethan Peikes
North Carolina Public Interest Research Group (NCPIRG) students