On Thursday, organizers with Scholars for North Carolina’s Future, along with contributions from NCPIRG, Democracy NC and Ignite NC, met with NC State students in Withers Hall to educate them on North Carolina’s new voter ID laws that will take effect this election season.
For the first time, North Carolina voters will be required to present photo ID at the polls, a controversial issue that many are saying targets minority, lower-income and student voters, as NC State student IDs are not considered a valid form of identification.
Organizers with NCPIRG are focusing their efforts on campus toward educating students on the new laws and petitioning to restore the early voting site to Talley Student Union, which they say processed nearly 13,000 voters in 2012.
“Many students are uninformed or misinformed on the new laws,” said Maddie Mujeres of NCPIRG. “Many people aren’t really sure which IDs are acceptable or that you can’t use your student ID.”
According to a documentary shown at the meeting, the new voter ID laws are reminiscent of voter restriction laws in the early 20th century after Reconstruction in North Carolina. Opponents say requiring photo IDs and restricting the use of student IDs disproportionately affects lower-income voters and students and that voter fraud has never been a major issue in elections.
“If more students knew about this law, they would be mad,” said NC State history professor David Zonderman of Scholars for North Carolina’s Future.
Scholars for North Carolina’s Future has been around for some time, and while it is rather loosely organized, it has shifted its focus recently to these new laws. However, Zonderman explained that real change will only come if students are educated on the issue and speak out against it.
“All universities, whether private or public, should be educating students about election law, and encouraging students to register and vote,” Zonderman said.
In 2012, millennials had the lowest voter turnout of any age group, at just below 45 percent. In 2016, people between ages 18 and 24 will make up the largest age block of voters, which many think is a motivating factor behind the new laws being passed. In 2011 when voter ID laws were first passed through the General Assembly, then-Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed the bill.
The bill was signed under current Gov. Pat McCrory, and many see it as a trend throughout Republican-majority states across the country, as North Carolina joins the likes of Texas, Tennessee and Georgia. But Zonderman said, “This should be a non-partisan issue,” explaining that good voter turnout and inclusive voting legislation is crucial to a healthy democracy.
“Because our generation doesn’t get out to vote, our elected officials don’t have our best interests at heart,” Mujeres said. “Students need to be more engaged with their elected officials, beyond just knowing who the president is. If millennials turn out to vote in huge numbers every time, politicians will have to change their positions to reflect younger voters.”
In addition to educating students on the new voter laws, NCPIRG is also playing a role in helping register students to vote. NCPIRG has been tabling in the Brickyard, as well as reaching out to classrooms, clubs and engaging with students directly to make sure they know how to register to vote.
The organization has been distributing “Voter Pledge Cards” to provide a resource for students looking to get involved with voting on campus. They are also attempting to get 1,500 signatures on a petition to restore the early voting site, which Zonderman claimed was “a wonderful resource for many students who were able to vote for the first time.”
The deadline for registering to vote in the March 15 primary is Feb. 16. An early voting period will take place largely through spring break from March 3 through March 12. This year, the closest early voting site to campus will be the Wake County Board of Elections headquarters in downtown Raleigh. Students are encouraged to research their polling location for the March 15 primary if they do not vote early.