On Tuesday, Nov. 5, Chapel Hill and Carrboro will hold local elections. For some, the arrival of another election day raises concerns that voter suppression, a contentious political topic nationwide, will be an issue at UNC.
A report by Tufts University found that the average student voting rate for colleges and universities in the U.S. in the 2018 midterm elections more than doubled from the last midterm elections.
But as a The New York Times article from October reports, more roadblocks to student voting across the nation, like limits on early-voting locations and restrictions on using student IDs to vote, have accompanied the growth in student turnout over the past few years.
“I think we saw students mobilized and ready to make their voices heard in 2016, which was very exciting,” senior and UNC Young Democrats President Alana Edwards said. “But I think, kind of along with that, since that election and even before, there has been a trend of particularly Republican legislatures making it more difficult for students to vote.”
Edwards said she thinks she can see this issue playing out on UNC’s campus, especially with recent concern about whether UNC is making enough of an effort to make One Cards count as valid voter identification.
N.C. voters approved a constitutional amendment last year that requires individuals to have a photo ID when voting in-person. House Bill 646, passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in June, then outlined the criteria that UNC System student and employee IDs must meet in order to be considered valid identification at the polls.
Now, UNC has to submit an approval form to the North Carolina State Board of Elections in order to meet a Nov. 15 deadline to make One Cards valid voter identification. Edwards said Young Democrats has contacted the University about its timeline for submitting but has received limited information.
“It boils down to the fact that not every student is going to have a form of valid ID that's going to prove their in-state residency aside from that One Card, especially for students who are out-of-state or may not have a drivers' license or passport,” Edwards said.
Edwards said lower-income students may rely on their One Cards in order to show N.C. residency and vote in Orange County. If they don't have them, she said, it becomes another unnecessary barrier to the ballot box that could suppress Democratic turnout on campus.
“When you create these barriers to the ballot box, like voter ID requirements, limiting early voting locations and times and making it harder to register to vote, these are going to disproportionately impact minority groups,” she said. “This is going to disproportionately impact students, lower income individuals — people who generally vote Democrat.”
UNC College Republicans Chairperson Joseph Buckner, on the other hand, said in an email that the use of voter identification is common sense.
“Implementing this policy in North Carolina protects us from fraud and is important for our election systems,” Buckner said in the email. “As to being an issue at UNC, I think it is the same situation for students as it is for other Americans, so UNC isn't disadvantaged by being a university.”
Buckner said the College Republicans, like the Young Democrats, North Carolina Public Interest Research Group (NCPIRG) and other organizations, have done many voter registration drives. He said he doesn’t see any sort of college voter suppression on campus.
"There is nowhere you can go on UNC's campus where there isn't information on voting, registration, polling locations, candidates, absentee ballots and other election information,” he said in the email. “There is nothing that I see that points to voter suppression on our campus."
Additionally, Buckner said there are multiple options for identification, including a free photo ID for voting that can be obtained from the county board of elections.
In a statement, UNC Media Relations said they are working closely with the UNC System and the State Board of Elections to meet the One Card deadline.
A UNC spokesperson said in an email that UNC Student Affairs and other campus partners work to ensure that students receive adequate information for voting and registration.
She also said the University has worked with the Orange County Board of Elections “to examine potential voting sites for both early voting and for primary and election days that are convenient and accessible for students.”
Hannah Picknell, the organizing director for NCPIRG Students, said she believes the lifestyle of a college student and recent laws can significantly impact students’ ability to vote.
“Young people move a lot, so they have to register every time they move," Picknell said. "They're less likely to have the right IDs to be able to vote right now and there are some laws that are making that more difficult for college students and young people."
She said the concerns she has heard from UNC students often revolve around confusion about where they should be voting and if they’re registered correctly — difficulties that NCPIRG aims to help students through.
Picknell said she has seen students working hard to ensure their peers are well-informed on how and where to vote.
“Even in an off year like this, where maybe not as many people are paying attention to the elections because it doesn't include other state races and federal elections, students are still really fired up about making sure that their peers know how to get involved in the process and be a part of the decisions that happen about their future,” Picknell said.
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