Politics & Government

College student IDs, early voting days renew debate over voter rules

Most UNC schools could not meet legal requirements to have their students’ ID cards used for voting next year under the new voter ID law.
Most UNC schools could not meet legal requirements to have their students’ ID cards used for voting next year under the new voter ID law. AP

Last year, North Carolina voters placed a voter ID requirement in the state constitution. And when state lawmakers later wrote the details of that new amendment, they created an option for college students to use their school IDs.

But first the college IDs had to be certified by the state. And in March, the N.C. Board of Elections denied the certification requests of most public universities in North Carolina.

Now, lawmakers are working on changes to the law to help more universities qualify.

Republican Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, who wrote the 2018 voter ID law as well as the new bill, said Tuesday that the UNC System and Board of Elections “had differing opinions” on some of the legal language in that original bill. But the new bill ought to address all those issues, he said at a meeting of a committee discussing the bill.

If it doesn’t pass this year, then most college students in North Carolina likely won’t be able to use their student IDs to vote in the 2020 elections.

Conservative politicians are sometimes skeptical of college voters. A previous voter ID law didn’t allow college IDs. And last year, former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory falsely accused many North Carolina college students of committing voter fraud in 2016, PolitiFact found. But the Republican-led General Assembly now appears poised to approve these new changes to help more colleges get their student IDs approved as voter IDs.

The bill already passed the House of Representatives, by a vote of 100-9, and on Tuesday it unanimously cleared its first committee hurdle in the Senate.

Earlier this year, all 17 UNC System schools applied to have both their students’ IDs and their employees’ IDs deemed eligible for use as voter ID. But only five schools had both their student IDs and employee IDs approved, and a few more had just their employee IDs approved.

Democratic Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham praised the changes in the new bill.

“I do think it’s a more comprehensive and thorough approach to addressing many of these issues,” he said.

Saturday voting

But McKissick wasn’t entirely satisfied with the bill. In the past, early voting in North Carolina had lasted until the final Saturday before the election. But state lawmakers got rid of that final Saturday in a 2018 law, which Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper unsuccessfully tried to veto.

McKissick said that he wants to add that final Saturday back in, and that he thought this bill would be a good way to do that.

Lewis told McKissick that he would support that change. But one of the chairman of Tuesday’s election committee meeting, Republican Sen. Warren Daniel of Morganton, said he was skeptical.

“The reason for eliminating, in my mind, is to give the Board of Elections time to breathe,” Daniel said, adding that even without that final Saturday there are still 17 days of early voting in North Carolina before Election Day.

“If you can’t vote in 17 days, maybe there’s other issues in your personal life,” Daniel said.

In the end, McKissick did not formally suggest amending the bill to add back that final Saturday of early voting. But he said he might still do so in the future, after talking with other lawmakers more about the details.

“I think it is desperately needed and would help a lot of people,” McKissick said.

Will Doran reports on North Carolina politics, with a focus on state employees and agencies. In 2016 he started The News & Observer’s fact-checking partnership, PolitiFact NC, and before that he reported on local governments around the Triangle. Contact him at wdoran@newsobserver.com or (919) 836-2858.