I was just an hour into trying to get a North Carolina voter ID to be able to vote in upcoming elections in North Carolina. Walking into the nearest DMV, I approached the front desk, pulled out the required forms of identification and hoped that this process wouldn’t be so burdensome after all. Soon though, my hope faded.
“I’m sorry sir, unless you’re doing official business with us, you can’t receive a voter ID here,” a half-asleep DMV worker drawled from behind the front desk. “You have to get your voter ID at the Board of Elections, not here.”
And so I walked away, confused, unsure why the North Carolina’s Board of Elections website had told me I had to get my ID at the DMV, but the DMV had led me right back to the Board of Elections. I got on another bus, headed off to the Board of Elections and realized my journey to get an ID wouldn’t be as simple as I had originally hoped.
In 2013, the North Carolina Legislature passed House Bill 589, which required all voters in North Carolina to provide a federal or North Carolina issued ID to be able to vote. This meant that for out-of-state students such as myself, a different state’s driver’s license or a college ID, the only two forms of identification I have with me in North Carolina, simply wouldn’t cut it.
However, the bill provided an “easy” fix for those who didn’t have an ID. A free voter ID could be gained from any North Carolina DMV simply by showing two forms of identification and one form of residence.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation, which oversees the state’s DMVs, even released a statement saying that getting a voter ID “should be pretty simple.”
So, I set out to see just how simple gaining a voter ID really is.
In order to receive a voter ID in North Carolina, you are required to show two forms of verified ID. There is a long list of acceptable IDs, but, because my passport, social security card and birth certificate were all at my home, in safe keeping, five states away, I was left with only being able to use an out-of-state driver’s license and an official college transcript. The first ID resided in my wallet, but the official transcript I had to get from NC State.
So, off I headed to the Department of Registration and Records and, after a quick five-minute wait, I had an official transcript in hand. Time wise, gaining the second form of ID had been quite easy, but, unfortunately the transcript wasn’t free. It cost me $12 to get the stamped, official transcript the DMV required — suddenly, the free voter ID was no longer free.
Yet, nevertheless, I had my IDs in hand, and I set off to the DMV. For the next three hours, however, I ended up traversing buses around the city. I was turned down at the DMV and shipped off at the Wake County Board of Elections, but, at the Board of Elections, I was again turned down, told that I was in fact supposed to get my voter ID at the DMV. Armed with pamphlets from the Board of Elections that clearly specified the DMV had to provide me with an ID, I was ready to return to the DMV. Unfortunately, after spending three hours riding buses around Raleigh, the DMV had shut down for the night. So instead I returned back to campus. In a day where I had spent $12 and three hours trying to track down an ID, I had nothing to show for my work.
The next day I was back at it. In the middle of the day, I had a three-hour break between classes which, I could only assume would give me enough time to gain the ID. When I arrived at the DMV the second time, I was armed with the pamphlets I had been given at the Board of Elections, and was quickly allowed to enter. Yet, moving past the front desk, I was met with a long line. For two hours I waited in the line waiting for my number to be heard, for two hours I listened to the same robotic voice calling out numbers, and for two hours my number was never called. Finally, with my afternoon classes just a half hour away, I had to call it. I left the DMV, boarded another bus back to campus, and still had no more IDs than I had started with two days earlier.
In total, I’ve spent $12 and six hours trying to get an ID. If I include the cost of time wasted set at North Carolina’s minimum wage of $7.25, my attempt to gain an ID has cost $55.50 so far. The stipulation, then, that a voter ID is free and simple to obtain, is completely inaccurate when we put the process into action.
Today, as my quest for a voter ID continues, I’m hesitant to go back and spend another three hours waiting in line, only to be forced to give up and return back to campus for class. All college students are busy, and the out-of-state students who need another ID to vote simply don’t have enough time to spend waiting in lines at the DMV to get one.
The decision of whether or not to vote can be best summarized as a simple cost-benefit analysis, where voters weigh the cost of voting against the perceived benefit they think their vote will earn. By forcing out-of-state students to use a North Carolina or federally issued ID, the cost to vote increases dramatically, disincentivizing many students from voting. Alienating an entire population, naturally, can have a huge effect on elections.
In North Carolina today, there are, by my best estimates, over 20,000 out-of-state students currently attending college in our state. Those voters are just over 1/3 the amount of votes Sen. Thom Tillis beat former Sen. Kay Hagan in the 2014 North Carolina Senate race. It’s frightening, then, that such a large portion of our electorate may be disenfranchised in a state that sees such close races regularly. With the senate and governor races again expected to be close in November, out-of-state students have the right to cast a vote in deciding who will represent them. Yet, with these laws, their right often goes unheard.
Simply allowing out-of-state students to be able to use another state’s driver’s license or their university IDs would fix this problem. Doing so would not increase the already mediocre chance of in-person voter fraud occurring, as voters would still be presenting a valid ID, and would award so many more students the ability to vote.
Today, gaining a voter ID card is simply too difficult for out-of-state college students. We out-of-state students want to be able to vote in the state we now call home, but if our state’s strict voter ID law continues, thousands of students won’t have their voices be heard at a time when every voice is so desperately needed.