After a slew of voting restrictions passed the General Assembly last summer, the upcoming midterm elections will be the state’s first taste of voting under the new policies.
Among the changes to voting laws are a shortened early voting period, a shortened registration period, an end to same-day registration, an end to provisional or “out of precinct” voting and county election boards may not open polling places for longer if problems arise.
That is, unless the Middle District court in North Carolina issues an injunction against the new rules until the larger court case determining their constitutionality is decided in 2015. The League of Women Voters, the state NAACP and the Department of Justice all joined in on the lawsuit to keep the 2014 election the way elections have always been. Or at least, as they’ve been since the Voting Rights Act.
Federal court judge Thomas Schroeder will make his decision mid-August. Until then, the voting laws could disproportionately affect racial minorities, low-income voters, the elderly and young people.
Jocelyn Hunt, vice president of College Democrats of North Carolina, said the policies are a direct attack on college-aged voters.
“College students have hectic schedules. We have to get to work and get to classes, all while balancing other extracurriculars,” Hunt said.
Attacks on early voting aren’t only coming from the General Assembly. Hunt goes to Appalachian State University, located in Watauga County, where the county Board of Elections voted not to have an early voting site on the ASU campus, citing a need to spread voting sites more equally across the county. The move was approved unanimously by the state Board of Elections. Since 2008, ASU has had an early voting site on its campus.
“Early voting on campus was easy. It took less than 15 minutes,” Hunt said. “And with around 17,000 people working there, ASU is one of the largest employers in the county.”
Hunt pointed to her personal experiences to illustrate how restrictive the new voting laws can be. After recently moving, Hunt now has to re-register, which current law says she must do at least 25 days before the election, putting the deadline in early October.
“For most college students, that’s around midterms, so not only is it not a lot of time, but for us, it’s when our schedule is getting hectic,” Hunt said. “It would have been easier if we still had same-day registration, but that’s gone now.”
While these changes in voting affect all vulnerable North Carolinians, not just young people, other changes to voting law in the state single out North Carolina youth. For one, pre-registration for 16-17 year olds is no longer allowed. However, 17 year olds who will turn 18 by Election Day will be permitted for pre-registration.
Imagine a North Carolinian whose birthday is November 3. Ordinarily, they would be able to pre-register when they are 17 and then, after they’ve turned 18, can vote. Now, with pre-registration gone and the registration process significantly shrunk, any young people whose birthdays fall in that 25 day slot are disenfranchised.
The voting reforms also require voters to show government-issued photo I.D. at the polls. This provision does not go into effect until 2016, but pollsters will be asking for I.D. in the upcoming election to test the practice. But one of the most common forms of government photo I.D. given — a university I.D. — will not be accepted.
“This is a direct attack on student voting,” Hunt said. “Especially for public universities, it’s silly not to use their I.D. cards.”
Hunt explained that many college students do not have driver’s licenses because most students do not have cars, there’s no requirement to have a driver’s license anywhere else in college life and college towns often have bus systems.
“My roommate doesn’t have a driver’s license and we’ve voted together at every election since we were 18,” Hunt said.
It’s easy to see why a Republican-controlled legislature would pass legislation making it harder for young people to vote. In 2012, 58 percent of voters aged 18-24 voted for Walter Dalton versus Pat McCrory.
But the problem goes a little deeper. Young people have the lowest turnout of any age demographic, with less than 45 percent turnout for voters aged 18-29 in 2012. A smaller proportion of the electorate makes candidates less likely to cater to the needs of young voters, which makes young voters less likely to be engaged, creating a cycle of apathy on both sides.