Politics & Government

Amid voter ID debate, NC may push for more uniformity in college IDs

The voter ID constitutional amendment explained

Republicans say photo voter ID is needed for security while opponents say it will keep people from voting. Voters will decide on a North Carolina constitutional amendment to require voter ID.
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Republicans say photo voter ID is needed for security while opponents say it will keep people from voting. Voters will decide on a North Carolina constitutional amendment to require voter ID.

Amid their effort to adopt a photo ID voting law, state leaders may seek to standardize certain elements of IDs issued at private universities and community colleges across the state.

College students’ votes were a prime concern of members of the public who spoke during a legislative committee meeting Monday, the first open forum since Republican state legislators introduced a draft voter ID bill last week. The bill comes on the heels of a referendum in which voters supported the general concept of requiring photo identification at the polls.

Under the draft bill, boards of elections would provide registration cards with photos that could be accepted as ID. Other acceptable IDs would include driver’s licenses, tribal IDs, military and veteran ID cards, state ID cards the state DMV provides to non-drivers, and IDs from North Carolina’s public universities — but not community colleges or private universities.

Nearly 90,000 students attend private universities in North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities advocacy group. And an estimated 735,000 were enrolled in one of the state’s 58 community colleges as of 2015, according to the NC Community College system.

In Monday’s meeting, lawmakers asked questions about how IDs are issued at private and community colleges and how long they’re valid. The requirements for obtaining an ID and the issuance and expiration dates likely vary by school, representatives for those educational groups said.

Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County, speaks about a draft voter ID bill on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018 after a Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee meeting.

Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County, said after the meeting that he’d like to see the IDs standardized in some way.

“My hope is to work with colleges and the community colleges to agree to a common format, stuff like an expiration date and other identifying factors that validate the ID ... and then move toward a more uniform standard,” Lewis said in an interview at the meeting.

“If the draft includes additional student IDs we will include a standardized process by which public and private higher educational institutions can opt in their student IDs as an acceptable form of identification to vote,” Lewis added later by email.

It’s unclear when the House and Senate will vote on a voter ID bill. Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger have asked that the review process “not be rushed in any way,” Lewis said at the meeting.

This is Republicans’ second major effort to implement voter ID in recent years. A 2013 law that did not count public or private university IDs as valid for voting was invalidated in 2016 by a panel of federal judges who said the law tried to make it harder for African-Americans to vote.

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That law was in effect for the 2016 primary, and it caused confusion at the polls for some college students.

More than 20 states have voter ID laws that accept identification from private schools, according to Hope Williams, president of the NC Independent Colleges and Universities. Indiana and Georgia are the only states with photo ID voting laws that accept public university IDs but not private ones, she said.

On Monday, Williams argued that IDs from private universities are trustworthy. Universities likely have more contact with ID holders than elections boards have with registered voters, she said, noting the application, class selection, orientation and cafeteria entry processes.

Williams speculated that her group’s members — of 36 colleges and universities across North Carolina — would likely be willing to comply with whatever lawmakers ask of them.

“As long as we are given enough notice and time to see what the cost would be, our folks would do their best to work with the General Assembly and the state board of elections,” Williams said.

The public comment portion of the meeting was dominated by speakers who expressed doubt about the legitimacy of elections and support for voter ID. Some said they oppose allowing IDs from any college, arguing that college IDs are more easily faked.

Legislators would put the bill in legal jeopardy if it discriminates against young people and people of color, said Gerry Cohen, a longtime former legislative staffer.

“This year saw the greatest increase in youth electoral participation in decades,” Cohen wrote to the committee. “Don’t put a stake through that progress by abridging voting rights based on age.”

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