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UNC and 11 other system schools fail to meet student voter ID requirements

UNC One Card Office
The UNC One Card office is responsible for distributing student IDs.

After submitting requests for student ID cards to be approved for voting in 2020, 12 of the 17 UNC system campuses failed to meet the requirements — including UNC-Chapel Hill.

All 17 UNC-system campuses applied for approval by the midnight deadline on Wednesday, but the State Board of Elections only approved North Carolina State University, North Carolina Central University, Elizabeth City State University, Appalachian State University and UNC-Asheville.

The law requires that the student ID cards contain photographs taken by the school, government or its contractors. Schools that issue IDs where students can upload their own pictures could not be approved, Board Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach wrote in a letter to legislators Friday.

Senior Luke Cullifer, UNC-CH Student Government director of state and external affairs, said he has been having conversations with several administrators in the student affairs and ONE Card offices regarding this issue.

“It was really disappointing to see we weren’t able to get this done, because if there was even one student that was going to be able to vote through their student IDs but no longer feels they have that opportunity, that’s one student too many,” he said. “... Seventy different places throughout the state did it, five schools within the UNC system did it, so it’s clear it was achievable, but we weren’t able to pass that bar, and I think that’s a real shame for the flagship of the university system.”

Gerry Cohen, a member of the Wake County Board of Elections, said he was present during a committee room discussion to enact the bill in December. He said the law was hurriedly put together and that he doesn’t think the requirements were fully thought through before the bill was enacted. 

“I expect this will get resolved by the legislature, because during the process in December to enact this bill it was stated that student IDs would be permitted," Cohen said. “I honestly don’t think anyone in the legislature knew that 12 of the campuses were allowing pictures to be uploaded, otherwise probably that requirement wouldn’t have been there.”

UNC-system Director of Media Relations Jason Tyson said the decision was surprising, but that the UNC system was not pursuing any legislative action at the moment.

Michael Behrent, a professor at App State and vice president of the N.C. Conference of AAUP, has been working on this issue on his campus. He said while he believes the majority of students have access to another form of identification apart from their student ID, he expects there will still be students negatively affected by Friday’s decision.

“If you have to have this law, then we want to maximize the number of IDs that count,” he said. "I am concerned about the fact that the UNC system was not particularly transparent about this issue before faculty, students and North Carolina citizens called public attention to the matter.”

Behrent said there is a provision in the law that allows for student IDs that meet the requirements, but does not know if the rejected IDs will be revisited for approval prior to the 2020 election.

Since North Carolina’s ID requirements don’t go into effect for voting until 2020, photo IDs won’t be required for any elections this year, including congressional elections in the 3rd and 9th districts.

UNC Faculty Chair Leslie Parise said students should be very concerned if nothing changes, and they should contact their appropriate representatives.

“Apparently, the next opportunity to request acceptance of a certain type of ID will be 2021 unless there is some sort of delay that is put into place, which hasn’t happened yet,” she said. “... So anyways, it’s not going to be great for UNC-Chapel Hill students unless they have some other form of acceptable ID.”

Cohen said Orange County voted heavily against voter ID and the constitutional amendment, but if voter ID is required, there should be a system “that doesn’t have ridiculous rules.”

“The law allows military and veteran IDs to be accepted, and driver’s licenses, and for none of those do you have to be a citizen,” Cohen said. “It seems to me, to single out students to apply a bunch of special extra rules would be really unfair, given that a number of the other types of IDs don’t provide any of that.”

Other forms of acceptable ID include driver’s licenses, military or veteran IDs, U.S. passports, tribal enrollment cards and some employee IDs for state or local government workers.

The State Board of Elections’ Friday deadline to approve ID cards applied to North Carolina universities, community colleges, American Indian tribes and government agencies. More than 70 institutions had their requests approved, but fewer than 10 percent of the 850 institutions eligible to have their ID cards approved submitted applications, Strach wrote in a letter to legislators, according to an article by the Associated Press.

The December voter ID law and constitutional amendment approved in November mandating IDs are the subject of three pending lawsuits in state and federal court, AP News reported on Saturday.

Cullifer said now that UNC’s student IDs have been rejected to be used for voting, he thinks students should be calling the One Card office, Student Affairs and their state legislators requesting to push the deadline for approvals back.

“Whether they need their student ID to count as a voter ID or not, there are students, I believe, on this campus who would have been more well-equipped to vote should their student ID also count as a voter ID,” Cullifer said. “That’s why students should care — because their classmates, their pupils, their friends — they were given an extra hurdle that could’ve very easily been taken away.”

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It appears some UNC-system administrators knew some universities' student IDs would not be compliant with the new law prior to the board's announcement Friday. On March 6, UNC-system Senior Vice President and General Counsel Thomas Shanahan and Assistant General Counsel Carrie Johnston wrote a letter to the SBOE, thanking them for clarifying the statutes and asking how the current procedures followed by the system can be considered as acceptable student identification. In the letter, they asked if the UNC system could follow different procedures to meet the March 13 deadline, such as submitting a letter instead of the prescribed form.

The board replied two days later declining the request, saying it is bound to the law and that the UNC system's proposals were not specific to any universities, making them hard to be considered. The system replied on March 13 to say they were still concerned about interpreting the law and that each university would still submit their letters for approval.

Anna Pogarcic contributed to reporting. 


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