Soucek says college voter proposal is about fairness
by Anna Oakes
State Sen. Dan Soucek of Boone said he supports fairness and equity in voting when asked about his co-sponsorship of bills that would impact college students and where they vote.
Soucek responded to several questions about Senate bills 666 and 667, which would bar parents from listing their children as dependents on state tax forms if the children register to vote at a different address. The state typically grants tax deductions ranging from $2,000 to $2,500 per child dependent.
Soucek said that his co-sponsorship of the bills means he wants to be in on the discussion of a proposal that interests his district -- "but this isn't my bill," he said.
The senator said his support for the bill is motivated by basic principle and by a specific event.
"(It's about the) basic fairness and equity of voting, and what standards does a voter need to have to vote in a community?" he said.
College students vote in college communities even though their driver licenses, vehicle registrations and other aspects of their lives are based in a different community, Soucek said.
"No one else gets that privilege," he added. "(There) seems to be a bit of inequality. I thought this (bill proposal) was a fairer idea."
Soucek pointed to an occurrence at Warren Wilson College last November. The campus was split into two districts as a result of the state's recent redistricting process, and, according to media reports, election officials waited until days before the election to inform campus administrators that students could no longer register at the campus post office address -- that they must register at their local residences.
But Soucek views the ordeal -- which ultimately flipped control of the Buncombe County commissioners to Democrats -- as "election manipulation."
"Some enterprising person discovered that the dorms were on one side, and the P.O. boxes were on another, and convinced students to change their registry to a new district," he said.
Soucek said he does have concerns about this bill proposal, however.
"I think that it's really important that citizens get involved in the process as young as possible," he said. "I do have a concern about any action that causes students to be disenfranchised or just disinterested in politics."
When it was noted that students pay sales taxes, work part-time jobs and pay rent (which contributes to property taxes) in their college communities, Soucek replied, "It's not that they don't have some presence in that community."
He said he was stationed in Georgia while in the military and that he paid taxes and owned a home there, but could not vote because he didn't switch his residency to Georgia.
The same could be said for second homeowners, he said.
Soucek said his support for the proposal is not influenced by partisan voting patterns, as some have suggested.
"My primary focus here is going to be philosophical on what's fair and just in elections," he said. "I think it's a dangerous thing when we try to make policy based on what the voting records are."
In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students have the right to register and vote at their college address.
Opponents of Senate bills 666 and 667, including Appalachian State Univeristy College Democrats President Mollie Clawson, say the proposal is discriminatory and that students should have the right to vote for representatives who have their interests in mind without putting financial pressure on their families.
The bills have been referred to the Senate rules committee.