Colin Campbell: Student voter ID policy a confusing patchwork
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 2, 2019
By Colin Campbell
Imagine this scenario: You’re an 18-year-old college freshman, eager to cast your first vote in the next presidential election.
You’re aware that North Carolina is requiring voter ID starting in 2020. And while you don’t have a driver’s license, you’ve heard that your student ID will work. So you don’t bother to go get the free photo IDs offered at the DMV and the local election office, and you show up on Election Day with your college ID.
The poll worker looks and your ID and hands it back, telling you your university isn’t on an approved list. You’ll have to vote a provisional ballot, and there’s no guarantee it will be counted.
Congrats! You just lost your right to vote because of a confusing bureaucratic mess.
Voter confusion, and perhaps even some voter suppression, could be looming thanks to the hastily approved voter ID implementation law. Republican lawmakers were willing to allow student IDs, but they wanted colleges and universities to prove that their IDs are issued in a secure manner.
However, some of those security requirements tripped up public and private institutions — and even government agencies that had to apply for their employee IDs to be accepted. Out of 850 universities, colleges, government agencies and tribes, only 72 applied by the deadline, and 13 — most of them UNC system schools — were rejected for failing to meet the requirements.
Hope Williams, president of N.C. Independent Colleges and Universities, said that so far 12 of the 36 private institutions represented by her organization have been approved. She says the others are interested in having their IDs approved for the polls, but there are impediments in the current law.
The law requires that photos on IDs be taken by the school, and some allow students — particularly online students who live far away from campus — to submit their own photos. Williams said there’s also confusion over a requirement that schools ask students about their citizenship status and Social Security numbers. And some schools don’t print expiration dates on their IDs, which would mean they’d have to spend money issuing new IDs to meet that requirement.
“Campbell University operates campuses in Buies Creek, Raleigh, Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune and online,” university spokeswoman Haven Hottel said. “Institution-wide, we do not feel that we could comply with all requirements outlined within the bill. Thus, we have chosen not to participate in the program at this time.”
Key House leaders like Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, say they’ll consider changes to address the universities’ concerns. But Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell and the Senate’s point man on election issues, recently told The News & Observer that the requirements are fine as is.
To avoid confusion at the polls, legislators need to make it possible for all student and government employee IDs to be valid voter IDs. Otherwise, we’ll all be waiting in line while poll workers consult a lengthy list of what’s valid and what’s not.
Security requirements might seem to make sense, but it’s unlikely that anyone would use a student ID to commit voter fraud. Would someone really pay expensive tuition fees in order to get a fraudulent university ID using a fake photo submitted online? Do universities need to verify a student’s citizenship status when it’s the responsibility of election officials to ensure non-citizens don’t register to vote?
And does it really matter if there’s an expiration date? If the photo on your ID is too old to resemble you, it’s your responsibility to get a newer ID that will clearly show poll workers you’re who you claim to be. Fraudsters looking to steal an election know it’s much easier and cheaper to use absentee ballots, as we learned in the 9th congressional district mess.
If legislators are serious about helping college students vote, they’ll fix this mess before voter ID takes effect next year. If they don’t — and leave a confusing patchwork of accepted IDs — we’ll know the real goal is suppressing the votes of young people.
Colin Campbell is editor of the Insider State Government News Service. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.