If you blinked this summer, you may have missed the North Carolina legislature’s push to revise policies on hot-button issues ranging from Medicaid to abortion. The legislature nestled its aggressive leap to the right in bills about Sharia law and motorcycle safety, drawing wide criticism and spawning the Moral Mondays protests. But of the issues that received attention this summer, Duke students should be particularly concerned about the new voter identification laws that threaten to undermine student involvement in politics.
The voter ID law, signed Aug. 12, shortens the early voting period from 17 to 10 days, eliminates same-day voter registration and prohibits the use of college identifications when voting, among other provisions.
State Republicans claim the law is a commonsensical attempt to stem voter fraud. Meanwhile, progressive groups like the ACLU and NAACP contend that the new restrictions will disproportionately affect poor and minority groups, which are less likely to possess state-issued IDs, rely more heavily on early voting periods and, skew Democrat. The debate has divided the state between skeptics, who see the voter ID law as a tool of voter suppression, and believers who see it as a necessary tune-up to lax election procedures.
Discerning intent is always a thorny exercise, but we see the Voter ID law as an unjustified measure regardless of its goals. It is true that voter fraud dilutes the weight of valid ballots and threatens democratic institutions. However, there is little evidence that voter fraud is a problem in North Carolina, let alone one significant enough to merit excluding thousands of citizens from the ballot box. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell noted in address to the NC CEO Forum last Thursday, it is contradictory to claim that voter fraud is both “widespread and undetected.”
The law contains two separate sets of measures: voter-ID requirements and restrictions on early voting and same-day registration. The law’s Voter Identification and Verification Act (VIVA) may be the law’s least objectionable component, but the majority of the 56-page document restricts access to voting and will inevitably hurt those for whom getting to the polls is already a complicated and burdensome process. At best, strict voter ID requirements ensure that voters are indeed who they say they are. However, the other restrictions are nothing more than arbitrary barriers to voting that will further harm the most disenfranchised members of society, a consequence of the law that outweighs the dubious benefits of stricter voter ID requirements.
Regardless of one’s ideological position on the issue, this law will undoubtedly make it more difficult for Duke students to vote in North Carolina. Student efforts to simplify voting on campus have been upended by this sweeping bill, which will drastically change the incentives to vote for out-of-state Duke students, a group that makes up 85 percent of our student body. Although the law’s passage is disheartening, we should continue to fight this change. To throw up our hands and admit defeat would only fuel apathy and allow more bills like this one to spill out of the North Carolina statehouse.