The life of a North Carolinian under the age of 30 is very different from the life of a North Carolinian above the age of 30. Young people have irregular schedules because of school. Young people have less money. Young people are less likely to have a driver’s license, let alone a car.
With a daily routine different from older generations, changes to that routine can result in significant delay or the cancellation of certain parts of a young person’s schedule.
In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a series of new voting laws restricting the time and place of voting, as well as adding a requirement for photo identification at the polls.
Democrats and other liberal-leaning advocacy groups in North Carolina have criticized the law changes, while Republicans, who controlled the General Assembly when the law changes were passed, said the changes will increase confidence in the voting system and curb voter fraud.
“I think the changes are necessary because it puts limits on voting to ensure voters are properly identified and people don’t vote twice, which is part of our electoral system,” said Thomas Friend, a junior at Elon University and a member of College Republicans.
Looking at the law, there are several aspects related to young people, like voter ID requirements and changes to precinct times. But whether these changes will impact the voting routine of youths is yet to be seen.
“I don’t like to call it voter ID. I like to call it voter suppression,” said John Easterling, president of the North Carolina Association for Teen Democrats.
Easterling is 17 and goes to Scotland High School in Laurinburg. He said requiring specific forms of identification to be able to vote make it harder for certain segments of the population to vote.
“Even though they say it’s only $13 for an ID, sometimes it’s pretty hard for people my age to scrape together $13,” he said.
If someone does not have a birth certificate to present to the DMV, that price can rise even more. As of 2014, in North Carolina, the cost to obtain a birth certificate is $24, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
According to a study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, the percentage of young people with a driver’s license has declined since the 1980s. Sixty percent of 18 year olds had a license in 2010 as opposed to 80 percent in 1983. For people aged 20 to 24, the percentage dropped from 92 percent to 81 percent in the same time frame.
In the University of Michigan study, 32 percent of respondents who didn’t have a driver’s license said “owning and maintaining a vehicle was too expensive.”
Friend, who is from Charlotte, disagreed with Easterling’s concerns that voter ID law would lead to a significant drop in turnout.
“Anyone who cares enough to vote will make the effort to get some sort of voter identification,” Friend said. “You have to jump through a few hoops, but it’s very easy to get an identification card.”
This one of the main concerns raised by opponents of North Carolina’s voter ID law. Those least likely to have a driver’s license — low-income people, African-Americans, young people — are more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate than a Republican one.
In the 2012 election, 49 percent of voters making less than $50,000 a year voted for Democrat Walter Dalton for governor instead of Republican Pat McCrory while 39 percent of voters making more than $50,000 voted the same way. Eighty-five percent of African-Americans voted for Walter Dalton as opposed to 29 percent of white voters.
When looking at young people specifically, 56 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 voted for Walter Dalton, making it the most Democrat-supportive age demographic in North Carolina.
When combining demographics, similarities between typical Democratic voters and those less likely to have driver’s licenses become more apparent. In a study of driver’s license ownership by the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute, not only were young people in Wisconsin less likely to have a valid license, but only 22 percent of young African-American men and 34 percent of young African-American women had a valid driver’s license, compared to 64 and 75 percent of young whites, respectively.
“The General Assembly has that knowledge, and they have continued to pass laws that suppress the vote of African-Americans and the vote of high school seniors and college students as well because they’re not accepting college IDs as a form of ID at the polls,” Easterling said. “It affects us financially, and it feels like our state is going backwards and not forwards and looks as though it doesn’t want to hear our voices anymore.”
The question of whether state college IDs can be accepted at the polls was one of the issues brought up in federal court this year. North Carolina’s voter ID law is already facing a legal challenge and will be in court in 2015, but the Department of Justice, the NAACP and the League of Women Voters also asked the courts to put a hold on the new voting laws for the 2014 election.
Federal court Judge Thomas Schroeder ruled in August against these groups, and the new voting laws will remain in place for the upcoming election.
The North Carolina DMV offers free voter ID cards for people without a license, but opponents have argued that the requirements to prove identity and location, as well as the time required to go to the DMV, still adds burdens onto people with busy schedules and smaller means.
One part of the voting law that specifically affects young people is the restriction on pre-registration. Only voters who will turn 18 on Election Day can register to vote, and annual voter registration drives in high schools are no longer required. Easterling said these drives in North Carolina high schools were always “spectacular.”
“There was one year when we registered over 3,000 high school students in North Carolina and, most likely, we’ll never see that again,” Easterling said. “There would be schools across rural North Carolina that could get hundreds of students registered in a week. Now you’d be lucky if you could register 25 or 30 students a week.”
Friend added it’s unfortunate that pre-registration and in-school registration is no longer a part of voting law in North Carolina. He said it will limit registration and turnout at elections.
“When you could register when you got your driver’s license, you killed two birds with one stone. It got people interested when they might not have thought about voting or civics,” he said.
Overall, Friend thinks voter turnout will drop in the 2014 midterm election because of part of the voter reform law to eliminate voting out of district.
“I think that’s going to take some getting used to,” he said. “But it won’t persist beyond that first election.”
Concerns about voting law reform lowering turnout rates are backed by research. The GAO studied voter turnout in Tennessee and Kansas from 2008 to 2012, during which the states enacted similar voter ID laws to those in North Carolina.
The GAO study found turnout dropped in those two states “to a greater extent than turnout decreased in the selected comparison states — Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware and Maine.” In addition, a greater number of provisional ballots were cast in Tennessee and Kansas specifically because of a lack of ID, and less than 40 percent of those ballots were counted in the 2012 election. Additionally, the drop in turnout was particularly sharp among voters aged 18 to 23, as well as African-Americans.
Young people are already one of the smallest demographics as far as turnout in elections, with 55 percent of registered North Carolina voters aged 18 to 25 turning out in 2012. Friend said voting and participation in politics is not presented in a way to engage young people.
“In many ways, it’s perceived as something ‘adults’ do,” Friend said.
Easterling said the changes to voting law in the state will exacerbate the reasons young people tend not to vote.
“It makes people say, ‘What the heck, I don’t want to go through the process anymore.’” he said. “And sometimes they feel like their vote won’t count.”