Politics & Government

Legislators disagree on the need to change NC’s voter ID law to help college students vote

Protesters oppose voter ID bill during legislative special session

NC NAACP President Rev. T. Anthony Spearman and Rev. William Barber led protesters at Bicentennial Plaza and into the gallery of the General Assembly during its special session on Tuesday, Nov. 27.
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NC NAACP President Rev. T. Anthony Spearman and Rev. William Barber led protesters at Bicentennial Plaza and into the gallery of the General Assembly during its special session on Tuesday, Nov. 27.

Key legislators disagree on the need to change parts of the voter ID law that led the State Board of Elections to reject most UNC system schools’ requests to let their students use their university identification cards to vote next year.

Only five of 17 UNC system schools had their student IDs approved for voting. In the Triangle, NC State and NC Central student IDs were approved, but UNC-Chapel Hill’s were rejected.

State Elections Director Kim Strach, in a letter to legislators Friday, said her staff was willing to work with them on a “legislative remedy” so more IDs could be approved before next year.

Voters decided last year to write requirements for a photo voter ID into the state constitution.

Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican who was a key negotiator on the voter ID law, said Tuesday he was interested in changes that would make more student and employee IDs good for voting.

“We have several members who are interested in this issue,” said Lewis, and he said he hoped proposals were ready by early May, the deadline for most bills to be approved by either the House or Senate to remain eligible for passage this session.

However, Sen. Ralph Hise, a Spruce Pine Republican and co-chairman of the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee, said the voter ID law is fine the way it is.

So far, the House and Senate have worked closely on the voter ID law to minimize the conflicts that often arise with complex legislation. Last week, the legislature passed a change to the law in a matter of days, which delayed implementation until 2020.

Obstacles to compliance

In her Friday letter to legislators, Strach identified the central reasons universities did not comply with the law on student and employee IDs.

The law requires that the university or a contractor take the photographs for ID cards, but some schools allow people to submit their own photos, Strach wrote.

The law also requires the university to confirm that the IDs are given to students who have provided personal information that includes Social Security numbers, citizenship status, and birthdates. Some schools use other ways to identify students, Strach wrote.

Employees of local governments and state agencies can use their employee IDs to vote if their employers meet the same requirements set out for universities and community colleges.

Some civic groups have argued that having universities verify information such as Social Security numbers and citizenship status is unnecessary because that’s the work of local boards of election.

“The rules should not impose requirements on the issuers of the photo ID cards to establish voter eligibility, as that responsibility must remain only with the county Boards of Election to enable students and employees to vote,” Marian Lewin, president of the League of Women Voters in Wake County, said at a public hearing last week.

The state elections board had to meet a Friday deadline to approve tribal enrollment cards, student IDs, and employee IDs for voting in 2020. The elections staff approved 72 institutions’ applications and rejected 13. All 13 rejected applications were from UNC institutions, including one from UNC Healthcare, which asked to have its employee IDs approved.

Fake IDs a threat?

Hise said Tuesday that universities need to verify students’ personal information so matches can be made to elections board data.

Only student photos taken by the university or contractor should be suitable for voting purposes to guard against people using fake IDs to vote, he said.

“Someone could click a photo on the internet and submit it,” Hise said.

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Lynn Bonner has worked at The News & Observer since 1994, and has written about the state legislature and politics since 1999. Contact her at lbonner@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4821.


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