When President Obama’s term expires in 2016, students at Elon University and other North Carolina colleges may find it more difficult to vote for his successor.
Last month, North Carolina General Assembly approved a sweeping piece of legislation that requires voters to show a state-issued photo ID or a U.S. passport at the polls. Out-of-state licenses will be accepted only if the voter registered in North Carolina less than 90 days prior to the election.
[quote] Politicians are rational actors. If they’re not, they get kicked out of office." - Jason Husser, assistant professor of political science [/quote]
Proponents of the bill see its provisions as a way to reduce voter fraud and ensure the integrity and efficiency of the state’s election process. But opponents argue it’s a thinly veiled attempt to prevent left-leaning constituencies — such as students and minorities — from participating in the democratic process by requiring forms of identification some voters may not possess.
“Explicitly, the motivation was to reduce voter fraud and reduce cost, but most of the changes have led to positive effects for Republicans,” said Jason Husser, assistant professor of political science at Elon. “It’s hard to discern which motivations were paramount. Politicians are rational actors. If they’re not, they get kicked out of office.”
The legislation doesn’t strictly prevent any students or residents from voting in any given election. Out-of-state students who wish to vote in North Carolina may do so after obtaining a state-issued driver’s license or a voter identification card, which will be issued for free at any N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles after Jan. 1, 2016, when the voter ID law takes effect.
According to Husser, it may be difficult for some college students to prove residency in the state, especially if they live on campus.
“Electric and utility bills with your address on them is one of the easiest ways to prove residency, but a lot of students have theirs handled by their schools,” he said.
Husser is currently compiling a list of ways students can avoid some of the potential voting obstacles within the legislation.
Senior Patrick Brown, senior class treasurer, said he doesn’t foresee the legislation preventing many college students from voting in the North Carolina.
“If a student wants to identify as a North Carolinian, it make sense for them to say, ‘I’m willing to go through the effort to get the card that identifies me as a North Carolinian,’” he said. “It shows that they care enough and know enough about what’s going on in this state.”
Brown files an absentee ballot in Virginia, where he is from, and he said he knows many students who also vote in their home states.
“With students, there is a side that really cares about voting, and a side that really doesn’t,” he said. “The side that does care will be thinking ahead and deciding whether they want to cast an absentee ballot or get a voter ID card.”
Because the voter law won’t take effect until 2016, it’s unlikely current juniors and seniors will be affected by it. But some younger students are unsure what they’ll do when the next presidential election approaches.
“I definitely would never change my Illinois ID,” said Mark McGann, a freshman senator in SGA. “I’m very proud of being from Illinois, and I feel like changing it would be such a process. Legislators should want all kinds of people to participate in an election, and a college campus is a great mix. They shouldn’t make it difficult for students. I may file an absentee ballot in Illinois, but if that’s too much of a process, I’ll just wait until 2020 to vote.”