By 2016, out-of-state Duke students and some native North Carolinians may be unable to vote in the state due to new voter identification laws currently taking shape. While specific legislation has yet to be proposed, up to 9 percent of the state’s voting population could be affected.
A previous voter ID bill, which passed the state legislature in 2011 but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Bev Perdue, would have required all voters to present either a driver’s license or state ID from North Carolina. Although the new bill may be more lenient, some suggest that DukeCards might not be accepted because the University is a private institution. This is a serious problem for students at Duke and other private universities, who may not only be prohibited from voting in-state, but may also face disincentives to cast absentee ballots and vote at home.
Given the stakes for students—90 percent of the class of 2016 is from out of state—and more general concerns about voter suppression, it is important that we fully analyze the costs and benefits of any new legislation. As it stands, we believe that current suggestions neither live up to their stated justifications nor offer a sufficient upside.
Republicans, who currently control the state legislature and the governorship, cite the reduction of voter fraud as a primary justification for requiring IDs. One study shows that North Carolina has experienced 22 cases of alleged voter fraud since 2000, indicating no significant problem in the state. While allegations have garnered more attention in other states, many argue that fraud via mailed votes is the more significant problem. It is not clear that a problem in North Carolina even exists and, if it does, that photo ID requirements are the correct way to solve it.
Justifications aside, it seems clear that new legislation would most heavily burden groups that are already disenfranchised and would increase the state’s political homogeneity. State officials estimate that more than 600,000 registered North Carolina voters do not have any kind of state ID, meaning they are already cannot engaging in other activities, like opening a bank account. Fifty-three percent of potentially affected voters are Democrats, 25 percent are senior citizens, and 30 percent are black. While voter fraud and voter disenfranchisement both represent infringements on democratic rights, relative magnitudes indicate that more stringent requirements would do far more harm than good.
But our criticism does not justify the status quo, which may be too lax. Nevada has proposed a voter ID law that promises to avoid the pitfalls present in the North Carolina discussion. Its plan, outlined last November, would operate through an online photo database. Data from driver’s licenses and state ID cards would automatically be pooled into the database. Voters not in the system would simply have to sign a form verifying their eligibility and have their photo taken on site. This solution could serve to curb the incidence of in-person fraud, would not require a new ID and would likely cost less than issuing free IDs.
Given the availability of alternative schemes and the obvious drawbacks to current ideas, North Carolina stakeholders should search for a better solution.