Politics

Students Are Being Rejected From The Polls Because Of North Carolina’s Voter ID Law

CREDIT: AP Photo/Gerry Broome

Members of North Carolina student chapters of the NAACP and opponents of voter ID legislation wear tape over their mouths while sitting silently in the gallery of the House chamber of the North Carolina General Assembly where lawmakers debated and voted on voter identification legislation in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, April 24, 2013.

North Carolina’s controversial voter identification law is being used for the first time in Tuesday’s primary, and registered voters are experiencing the consequences of the voter suppression measure.

About 218,000 North Carolinians, roughly five percent of registered voters, do not have an acceptable form of government-issued ID that is now required under state law to cast a ballot.

Early voting offered a glimpse of the problems that will arise on Tuesday — during the past ten days of early voting, many college students were blocked from the polls. North Carolina’s WRAL reported that 864 people across the state had cast provisional early ballots because they did not have acceptable forms of ID, and four of the five counties with the highest concentrations of provisional ballots from voters without ID were in places with college campuses.

Bob Hall, the executive director of Democracy North Carolina, told ThinkProgress that the voter protection hotline is receiving many calls, “disproportionately from young people and students,” who are being told they do not have acceptable ID, so they have to “go through the maze of filling out forms” and provisional ballots. Those ballots run the risk of being challenged and not being counted.

“Because this is so much affecting young people, we’re teaching them the wrong lesson about democracy and about voting,” Hall said. “We’re really pushing them away from being involved in the political process, and that’s a bad message, but it is the message that’s coming across.”

Under current North Carolina law, people who have registered to vote within 90 days of Election Day can use an out-of-state ID to vote – an important provision for students who may attend school away from their home state. But those who registered more than 90 days before Election Day and do not have a North Carolina ID are being forced to cast provisional ballots.

University of North Carolina sophomore Isatta Feika had to cast a provisional ballot because of her out-of-state ID. She told WRAL she likely won't vote in North Carolina again after experiencing the hassles involving voting without an ID in North Carolina. "I'm probably just going to register in Georgia and absentee vote there," she said.

Elderly voters told the Nation's Ari Berman how the voter ID law imposes similar barriers to voting to what they experienced in the Jim Crow South. Rosanell Eaton, a 94-year-old voter, had to recite the Preamble to Constitution to vote in North Carolina in the 1940s. Last year, she had to make 11 trips to state agencies to comply with the voter ID law.

”We had 100 years of pushing away people from the polls,” Hall said about North Carolina. “It was really only in the early 21st century, after 2000, that our participation started to come up, and now we’re going right back to this message of ‘elections are not for you.’”

Like in South Carolina, voters without ID can cast a provisional ballot if they have a "reasonable impediment" to getting photo ID, including lack of proper documents, work schedule, or family obligations. But unlike South Carolina, the impediments voters can list are limited and will not cover any voter without ID. Early voting data has shown that while black voters make up 22 percent of the state's voting population, they account for 26 percent of those who said they had a reasonable impediment for not having an acceptable ID.

Some of the state’s restrictive voting measures are not in place on Tuesday, but will go into effect before November’s general election. North Carolina voters are permitted to vote outside their normal precinct on Tuesday because of a court injunction, but this stipulation will not be in place in November because it was eliminated by Republican-engineered legislation. Hall noted that it is likely to disenfranchise many voters in November -- even this year, voters are being rejected from voting at other precincts because of confusion by poll workers.

After this Election Day, same day registration will also be eliminated in North Carolina. Hall said he saw “thousands of voters in the early voting period whose right to vote was protected through the use of same day registration, so when that does get repealed, it will have a big impact.”

The state’s voter ID law, part of a sweeping election reform law passed in 2013, is still being challenged in both federal and state court. Also pending in federal court are challenges to new laws that restrict the early voting period, eliminate pre-registration of teenagers before they turn 18 and same-day registration during early voting, and block people from voting outside their assigned precincts.

An appeal to that lawsuit could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.