Politics & Government

Former Gov. Pat McCrory falsely says many college students are committing voter fraud

Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory talks with reporters at the end of a debate at WRAL studios in Raleigh NC on Oct. 18, 2016. In November 2017, he started his own company: 74Leadership, Inc.
Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory talks with reporters at the end of a debate at WRAL studios in Raleigh NC on Oct. 18, 2016. In November 2017, he started his own company: 74Leadership, Inc. cseward@newsobserver.com

While recounts were happening in Florida for the governor’s office and a seat in the U.S. Senate, a former North Carolina governor who lost his own seat in a recount offered some advice to Republican Senate candidate Rick Scott.

Former N.C. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory said Scott should watch the vote tallies coming in from areas with large college student populations.

“In my particular election we had a lot of college students, who were out-of-state college students, vote,” McCrory said. “And they could do it because there was no voter ID which would’ve showed New Jersey license plates, Pennsylvania license plates, you name it. .... And I couldn’t do a thing about it.”

McCrory later continued: “The question is where do they actually live? … If they voted in North Carolina and yet their car is registered elsewhere, they have a driver’s license from elsewhere, they’re breaking the law. And there is no way we can prove it.”

However, McCrory is wrong about this.

“College students may register and vote in the county where they are attending college,” says the website of the North Carolina Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

Pat Gannon, the elections board spokesman, clarified that the rule applies to students who move within North Carolina for college, as well as to students who moved here from another state.

“Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there that unnecessarily erodes confidence in our election system,” Gannon said in an email. “We encourage everyone to understand the law and election policies and procedures before spreading inaccurate information.”

The only thing that stops out-of-state students from being eligible to vote in North Carolina would be if they intend to move back home with their parents (or other legal guardian) after graduation, according to state law. But if they intend to remain in their college community after graduation, or if they intend to move anywhere else in the country other than back home, or if they don’t have any post-graduation plans yet, then they may legally vote in their college communities.

Though there is that rare instance in which an out-of-state college student would be ineligible to register to vote using a college address, McCrory’s claim that every student with a driver’s license from a different state who votes in North Carolina is “breaking the law” is clearly incorrect.

In North Carolina, it can actually be illegal in certain circumstances to spread misinformation about people’s eligibility to vote. According to state election laws, it is a felony offense for “any person, directly or indirectly, to misrepresent the law to the public through mass mailing or any other means of communication where the intent and the effect is to intimidate or discourage potential voters from exercising their lawful right to vote.”

However, McCrory said he was not intending to spread misinformation, and was simply “raising questions” about voter fraud.

“You’re naive if you think there aren’t some people who don’t try to get around the rules,” he said in an interview. “And we ought to have safeguards in place to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

McCrory also said it’s not that he believes college students shouldn’t vote — just that they should vote from the right place.

“And if they intend to go back home” after graduation “they should vote back home,” he said.

That’s correct, but it only applies to a small number of students — not all of them, as McCrory said on his radio show. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center study, an estimated 10 percent of people age 25-35 with college degrees were living with their parents.

McCrory also said that while state election laws do appear to show he’s incorrect, he believes there is case law — precedents set in court — to prove his point. However, he did not point to any specific examples, and lawyers from the state elections board pointed to numerous examples that show he is wrong.

In 1979, both the U.S. Supreme Court and the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that college students who didn’t grow up in their college community can nevertheless register to vote there while a student.

In the federal case, Symm v. United States, the Supreme Court did not write a formal opinion on the case but rather affirmed a lower court’s ruling that college students could vote at their college addresses.

In the local case, Lloyd v. Babbs, the N.C. Supreme Court further ruled that a student wanting to register to vote at college “need not also intend to stay in the college community beyond graduation in order to establish his domicile there.” Students at North Carolina colleges who want to register to vote can find the forms and instructions at ncsbe.gov.

By the way, North Carolina also allows homeless people to vote. And while all U.S. citizens who have moved to a different nation remain eligible to vote in the state where they last lived, North Carolina is one of 37 states that have additionally extended voting rights to U.S. citizens who have never even set foot inside the United States — as long as their parent or guardian last lived in North Carolina, according to the federal government’s Voting Assistance Program.

Our ruling

McCrory said that “if (college students) voted in North Carolina and yet their car is registered elsewhere, they have a driver’s license from elsewhere, they’re breaking the law.”

That is wrong. North Carolina college students from any state can vote in their local college community, with the limited exception of students who plan to move back in with their parents after graduating.

We rate this claim False.

This story was produced by the North Carolina Fact-Checking Project, a partnership of McClatchy Carolinas, the Duke University Reporters’ Lab and PolitiFact. The NC Local News Lab Fund and the International Center for Journalists provide support for the project, which shares fact-checks with newsrooms statewide.

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