NC State hosts an entire page advertising how much it values diversity on its campus and in its endeavors, and while it’s outside the scope of this column to comment on how well it lives up to those goals, the intention is certainly a positive one. However, the university cannot live up to this mission if it doesn’t feel pressure to do so.
Being a public university, NC State ultimately answers to voters to determine what resources it is given and how it uses them. It reasons that any law which discriminates against a certain group of voters, especially those historically and currently underrepresented on its campus, inhibits our university's ability to follow through on its core promise of diversity.
Thus all students should feel relieved that recently, the State Court of Appeals became the second court to block North Carolina’s voter ID law for being racially discriminatory against black voters. A previous decision by a federal court stalled the law’s implementation until after the 2020 primary on March 3.
In the new ruling, the judges argued that the current law needlessly bars certain IDs more often used by African-Americans, indicating a discriminatory intent for the law. While the judges are still reviewing the case, this decision will ensure the law is not implemented until the case is resolved, which might not be until after the general election in November.
The law in question was passed in December 2018, right after the GOP lost its supermajority in the legislature but before the new lawmakers were sworn in. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed it, but Republicans were able to overrule this with their supermajority.
A voter ID law had to be passed at some point because the midterms also saw North Carolina voters approve an amendment to the state constitution (Article VI, section 2) requiring an ID to vote. While the law in question had some positive aspects to it — for instance, many student IDs, including NC State’s, qualify — racial discrimination has dogged the history of North Carolina’s voter ID laws since the first attempt.
In 2013, directly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of the Voting Rights Act, the General Assembly passed a law which required voter ID (with college IDs not qualifying), slashed early voting days, removed same-day registration, and installed a host of other changes which impeded access to the polls.
The Justice Department sued, resulting in a federal court overruling the law in 2017, saying it would “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” That decision then prompted the legislature to pass six constitutional amendments before a likely loss of supermajority power during the 2018 midterms.
Any voter ID law would have to contend with the massive historical baggage accompanying its history in this state, let alone one passed over the governor’s veto primarily with votes from one party. The state constitution isn’t likely to change anytime soon, which means a voter ID law must be passed, but such a law must have broad support and ensure every measure is taken to provide an ID to every citizen of the state.
To ensure NC State’s future as a diverse and inclusive campus, it needs people in charge with an obligation to put resources toward attracting a diverse student body. Laws like this one directly interfere with that goal by cutting the only link between control of this state’s land-grant university, founded to be an engine of economic mobility, and the communities it ought to be serving most.