By: Gabrielle Vance
In November of 2018, 55% of North Carolinians voted “yes” to a constitutional requirement that voters must present a photo ID to vote in person. The Governor promptly vetoed it. Then in December, the North Carolina House of Representatives voted in favor to override the Governor ‘s veto.
The resulting law, Senate Bill 824, amends North Carolina’s state constitution to require voters to present valid photo identification. The bill offers voters several examples of acceptable forms of photo ID, such as a driver’s license, a military ID card, and select student IDs. The strict qualifying requirements for student IDs effectively prevent students at some North Carolina colleges and universities from voting in-state, as explained below. If that student then fails to vote by absentee ballot in their home state, young voter turnout could be diminished.
Kim Strach – the former executive director of North Carolina State Board of Elections who was replaced in June by Karen Brison Bell – stated that a number of schools in North Carolina allow students to take their own photos for their student ID cards. The Board of Elections denied these students the right to use their student IDs to vote in North Carolina. This is important because for out-of-state students who vote in North Carolina, this may be their only form of in-state ID. In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court held that students are able to register to vote in the state where they attend college even if they did not grow up there. The state’s colleges and universities can apply to have their student ID cards approved by the North Carolina State Board of Elections. To be accepted, the school must meet a number of requirements, including having the school take the student’s photo and confirming the student’s social security number, birth date, and citizenship status. Elon University, a small private university in the suburbs of Greensboro, for example, is one of several North Carolina schools that allows students to take their own photo for their student ID, and put the cost to issue new conforming IDs to all students at about $100,000.
A matter as simple as a self-taken or university-taken photo might seem to be small, but the effect may be to cause a student not to vote at all. College students traditionally have had low voter turnout rates and allowing out-of-state students to vote where they are attending school relieves some of the potential stress and confusion of obtaining an absentee ballot. Additionally, it encourages students to become more civically engaged in their local community. In 2016, 48% of college students voted, which is about 13-14% below the national average. While voter apathy is thought to be the primary reason as to why young people are not voting, it is not a trivial issue that college students also face many hurdles to vote, including voter identification. Many of these hurdles stem from college students attending an out of state school.
Elon decided it was worth it to absorb the cost and issue new student IDs. These students are now able to use their valid student IDs to vote in the 2020 election. Many academics share the perspective of Elon President, Connie Book, that schools should encourage everyone to vote and remove whatever obstacles there are to voting, especially for young people. On the contrary, other academics believe that there is no harm in not providing students with a valid form of identification to vote. Research suggests that there is not a statistically significant correlation between turnout and voter ID laws. Ultimately, college students still have the opportunity to vote in their respective home states through the form of an absentee ballot. Also, students in North Carolina can obtain a North Carolina driver’s license if they satisfy the residency requirements. Political Science professor Jason Husser, who specializes in North Carolina politics says, “[t]he university would not be disenfranchising students’ right to vote by not providing a valid form of ID.” Despite this perspective, 81 colleges and universities in North Carolina submitted an application to have their student IDs approved, 72 of which were approved.