Point of View

With McCrory’s signing of voter ID bill, high hurdles for students

August 12, 2013 

As tens of thousands of college students return to campus in the coming weeks, I wonder how many know that exercising their legal right to vote in North Carolina will become much more difficult now that Gov. Pat McCrory has signed the voter ID bill.

In fact, arguably no state makes it harder for a college student to vote than North Carolina will. That’s a sad fact for a state that saw record turnouts of young people go to the polls in 2008 and 2012.

The law as signed allows a very limited number of acceptable IDs to vote. College IDs are not among them.

Neither Georgia nor Indiana, states considered to have the toughest photo ID laws, is that harsh. Both states allow students attending public universities to use their college-issued ID cards to vote.

Our law does allow a student from North Carolina to use a North Carolina driver’s license as ID, which will make voting much easier for many young people. But what of the 50,000 students from other states attending our institutions of higher learning? They spend money, often have jobs, abide by our laws and, yes, pay taxes – and have a constitutional right to vote here as well.

So those students should be able to use their out-of-state driver’s licenses to vote, right? That’s what nearly every other state that requires voter photo ID allows. But not North Carolina. The N.C. legislation prohibits out-of-state students from using their out-of-state driver’s licenses.

When lawmakers pushed for an ID law, they argued it would pose no real hardship because photo IDs are an everyday part of our lives. Yet in North Carolina, the new reality will be that, if you are a student from another state, we will accept your out-of-state driver’s license for everything but voting.

What’s the alternative?

Any person lacking an ID from the narrow acceptable list can obtain a “free” N.C.-issued card. Sounds great until finding what one has to do to get that ID.

Getting a “free” state-issued ID first requires a trip to a Department of Motor Vehicle’s office, taking with you no fewer than four other forms of identification. One of those IDs must be your original Social Security card or a tax form with your name and Social Security number. How many college students, much less the rest of us, can easily put their hands on that?

Other IDs needed to prove identity and residency can include an original birth certificate – not a copy – a marriage license, a divorce paper, tax records and work receipts – items not every 18-year-old college student readily has.

For some lawmakers, that’s the point. They don’t think young people from another city or state should be allowed to vote where they go to college. There even was a bill introduced (but not passed) that would have imposed a tax penalty on parents of college students daring to register and cast ballots in any location other than where their parents reside.

North Carolina’s new voter ID law would make thousands of young people, many of whom are first-time voters, have a harder time voting and ultimately may entice them to decide, “Why bother?”

Common Cause North Carolina, along with many other organizations, will be educating students and the public about these harsh rules for voting. We hope McCrory and the lawmakers who passed this law will reflect on how unfair it is and look to change it in the next legislative session.

The needed changes are simple: Allow college students to use their college IDs to vote and allow out-of-state students to use their driver’s licenses to vote. Otherwise, our new law imposes unfair barriers to voting for young people.

And that’s unhealthy for our democracy.

Bob Phillips is executive director of Common Cause North Carolina.

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