Beginning in 2016, North Carolina will require photo ID to vote at the polls. Acceptable forms of identification include: North Carolina state-issued driver’s licenses, U.S. passports or passport cards, North Carolina identification cards, military or veteran identification cards and certain tribal enrollment cards. Notably, this list does not include student IDs.
College students already have a bad turnout reputation, especially in state and local elections. With this restriction, a whole class of UNC students — out-of-state students — could be excluded from voting.
Out-of-state students without a U.S. passport or passport ID card will not be able to vote in elections starting in 2016 — with one exception. People with driver’s licenses from other states are able to vote in elections in 2016, but only if they register to vote at least 90 days ahead of the election. This means that a typical out-of-state student who voted in the Chapel Hill municipal elections this week will not be able to vote in the 2016 presidential election in North Carolina without a U.S. passport unless they obtain a North Carolina driver’s license or nonlicense ID.
This disproportionately affects out-of-state students, especially those without the ability, means or knowledge to acquire an acceptable form of ID.
Not only does this affect out-of-state students disproportionately, but it also affects black and Hispanic voters more so than the white population in North Carolina. A challenge to the constitutionality of the voter ID law is currently working its way through the courts.
After the law was passed in 2013, a clause was added to include a waiver for identification under special circumstances, such as in the case of stolen ID. The first federal trial was complicated by this adjustment. But the federal judge will continue the challenge of the law to determine whether this waiver sufficiently provides access to the polls for those who do not have the ability or means to acquire state or nationally issued identification.
Roy Cooper, the current North Carolina attorney general and a Democratic gubernatorial candidate challenging incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016, has not taken a true stand against the constitutionality of the law, which is dubious. Rather, he has defended it in court. In his political career and race for governor, Cooper has come out against the voter ID law, but he has not used his current office to oppose the legislation directly. Voters should push him on this issue.
This law was ostensibly put in place to prevent voter fraud. However, voter participation in North Carolina should not be discouraged with identification laws. In nonpresidential election years, voter turnout is generally less than 50 percent. And in the most recent presidential election year, 2012, turnout was 68 percent. While voter fraud should not be permitted, laws should encourage the citizens of North Carolina to go to the polls and have their opinions heard, instead of being encumbered by more restrictions.
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