North Carolina's state of hostility

North Carolina Republicans have a super majority in the state house and are downsizing government by cutting unemployment benefits and education. The goal is to deliver tax cuts and to reduce debt. There are many protests and arrests. It's quite a scene. I’m not going to get into the relative merits of any of these actions, except one.

There’s a statehouse bill pending called the Equalize Voter Rights (Senate Bill 667), which is designed to upset the very people who will create the state’s future. The bill is a voter suppression act aimed at students. It “would remove the tax exemption for dependents who register to vote at any address other than their parents' home,” reports WRAL.com in North Carolina.

The story adds: "If the voter is a dependent of the voter's parent or legal guardian, is 18 years of age or older and the voter has registered at an address other than that of the parent or legal guardian, the parent or legal guardian will not be allowed to claim the voter as a dependent for state income tax purposes," the bill says.

If a student votes where they go to school, there may be a real tax penalty. The intent is obvious: Cut down on the number of young, and potentially Democratic, voters.

North Carolina State University student newspaper, the Technician, wrote this when the bill first surfaced:

 "Technician, as a group of college students, feels undervalued by the North Carolina government. Between Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed $139 million budget cut to UNC System schools and Senate Bill 667, which would lessen the voice of college students in their respective college counties, it is easy to understand our discontent. At least, we think it’s easy." 

Why should anyone care about North Carolina and its tech future? There are 49 other states, after all. If North Carolina goes off the grid, Texas, Massachusetts, California may gain. But in terms of tech, North Carolina is one of the nation’s most interesting states and its success has national implications.

Elected officials in North Carolina will do well to pay attention, in particular, to what the students at North Carolina State University are doing.

In 2007, the university created the nation’s first master’s program in data analytics. Thanks to its work in this area, the state is well positioned to build new firms that utilize Big Data, assuming its graduates stick around.

North Carolina State University’s work here isn’t just important to North Carolina. Its groundbreaking Institute for Advanced Analytics is being copied by universities nationally. The university’s model is helping to propel the U.S. as a center for analytics training globally.

North Carolina has a large high tech industry. Approximately 5% of the private sector workers in North Carolina are employed by tech firms, according to TechAmerica Foundation’s annual Cyberstates report. It ranks 16th nationally among states in tech employment, but that ranking doesn’t tell the full story.

The state’s tech workforce is poised to grow, and not just because of its work in analytics education. Its electric grid and telecommunications infrastructure, as well as its higher ed system is very good (so far at least). It’s one of the reasons why Apple, Google and Facebook have all built major data centers in the state. Available low cost land and a skilled workforce were key as well.

Disenfranchising students from voting because they might vote Democrat is shallow thinking to the extreme.  

What is the risk for North Carolina if they penalize some students? The best answer, perhaps, is another question: How does suppressing student voting inspire confidence among young people in North Carolina’s political leadership? This may have long-term consequences for a state that needs to retain a highly-trained workforce.    

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