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Voter ID law to impact college voting

A new North Carolina law will alter the way students will vote—or not vote—while attending Duke.

Members of the Duke community are still assessing the obstacles to student voting imposed by the voter ID law, which Gov. Pat McCrory signed Aug. 12. House Bill 589 ushered into the state a wide range of voting procedures and restrictions—among them, a reduction of early voting as well as the termination of same-day voter registration, pre-registration for high school students and the use of college identifications as acceptable forms of voter identification.

“No matter what your party affiliation is, you have to change your voter behavior,” said junior Derek Rhodes, Duke Student Government vice president for Durham and regional affairs. “We will feel a decrease in student participation in the election.”

The acceptable forms of identification for registering to vote are state- or federally-issued photo IDs, such as North Carolina drivers licenses’, U.S. passports and Veteran Identification cards. Out-of-state drivers’ licenses can only be used to register within 90 days of an election. College IDs are no longer permitted as forms of ID when registering to vote.

The law reduces the amount of early voting allowed to “no earlier than the second Thursday before an election.” This cuts the period of early voting from 17 days to 10 days.

Rhodes noted that this will bring into question the practicality of having an on-campus early voting location for future elections, due to cost and logistical issues. The University will have to weigh the costs of providing the on-campus voting—the expense of hosting the site, the necessary parking accommodations, security for confidential voter information—against the benefits of a little over a week of early voting.

“We have to look at, within the timeframe they’ve allowed for early voting, would it be worth the cost?” he said. “Early voting is important, but we have to look at what they will allow us to have. On campus, we don’t know what that looks like.”

Richard Engstrom, a research associate at Duke’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Gender in the Social Sciences, also noted that if the law leads to fewer campuses hosting early voting, it will pose challenges for students and community members looking for a voting site.

“It’s not just the IDs, it’s also having access to polling places,” Engstrom said. “What we may see from the county boards of election represents a serious attack on student voting.”

The law also eliminates straight-party voting, as well as pre-registration for 16- and 17-year old residents. In a press release earlier this month, the governor's office attributed this to the “bureaucratic burden” that comes with re-certifying the underage voters upon their 18th birthdays.

Rhodes said that the pre-registration prohibition prevents younger people from becoming excited about participating in elections.

The law prohibits same-day voter registration during early voting, a feature that was present at last year’s on-campus voting site. It also bans counties from extending voting hours on Election Day to accommodate voters who arrive after the polling time has closed.

Engstrom said it is too soon to tell if the law will decrease student voting in a way that significantly affects the outcomes of elections.

“It depends on how competitive the election is,” Engstrom said. “Student polling tends to be much more heavily Democratic than Republican.”

DSG and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Student Government aligned to release a joint statement in opposition of the bill before it was passed, citing specifically the impact the legislation would have on the voting practices of college students who vote at school.

“The [legislation] is saddening and harmful to the process of college student participation in the political process,” read the August 5 post on the DSG blog. “This legislation disregards over 20,000 students in North Carolina, who value their chance to participate in politics.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation and the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a lawsuit against the legislation.


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