BOONE – The new state voter identification law has the University of North Carolina system, private schools and community colleges holding off on attesting that student identification cards are compliant as leaders try to interpret the law.
Currently, all N.C. colleges and universities have until March 13 to sign an attestation form to the N.C. State Board of Elections that states that post-secondary schools’ identification cards can be used as a proof that a resident is who they say they are. If schools don’t sign the form by March 13, student IDs would not be eligible photo IDs in elections through 2020.
But as of Feb. 22, none of the schools have signed the form, according to the state election board’s Patrick Gannon in the Raleigh News and Observer. Further, leaders have concerns about signing the form.
“Some aspects of what this attestation would legally bind Chancellor (Sheri) Everts to could have significant outcomes, and it is critical for us to better understand what this could mean for ASU’s current and future students,” Appalachian State University spokesperson Megan Hayes said.
Voter identification was made law in December 2018 following the approval of a constitutional amendment by roughly 55 percent of the voters in November allowing the legislature to file a voter ID bill.
Session Law 2018-144 outlines the system that would lead to the approval of student IDs as voter IDs. The law states that the “chancellor, president or registrar” of the school must submit a signed letter to the SBOE “under penalty of perjury” that the ID cards are issued after an enrollment process that confirms a student’s Social Security number, citizenship status and birthdate.
Hayes said that currently, ASU’s admissions and enrollment process does not include student’s Social Security numbers, citizenship status of students or birth dates.
Thomas C. Shanahan, the general counsel for the UNC system, said in a statement released Feb. 25 that currently, students receive university IDs even if they’re not 18 years of age, a U.S. citizen or have a Social Security number.
“UNC system institutions continue to work through these and other requirements of the law,” Shanahan’s Feb. 25 statement said. “They are also working to identify ways to assist in obtaining valid photo ID for those students and employees who need it, in the event that institutionally-issued IDs cannot be certified for use by the March deadline.”
Everts has been pressured to sign the attestation form by the Watauga Voting Rights Task Force and the ASU Student Government Association.
“Chancellor Everts is approaching this matter with the wellbeing of students foremost in mind, and the ultimate goal that they have legally recognized identification to vote,” Hayes said.
UNC system spokesperson Jason Tyson said the administration is working to meet the requirements, but wasn’t sure if the system would do so.
“As a system, we are working to do all we can to meet that deadline,” Tyson said. “We’re going to be unified in this. We are pro-voter and pro-student.”
Tyson said that no direction has been given to any of the 17 UNC system chancellors to sign or not.
The law covers more than just the state’s public university system. Private schools like Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk will be making student ID decisions.
“Lees-McRae College has been in frequent contact with North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities and the North Carolina State Board of Elections for student ID requirements for use at N.C. polling locations,” LMC spokesperson Nina Mastandrea said. “We encourage our students to be active participants in the election process and welcome opportunities for their voice to be heard.”
The North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities is comprised of “nonprofit, private liberal arts, research and comprehensive colleges and universities across North Carolina. Approximately 90,000 students attend one of the 36 member institutions, which includes Duke University in Durham, Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem and Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory.
Hope Williams, president of the NCICU, said that the group held a webinar with the N.C. State Board of Elections and allowed its schools the chance to ask questions.
“Each campus will be deciding individually, but all are coordinating together to make sure we have the questions answered,” Williams said.
Brian Long, a spokesperson with the N.C. Community Colleges System, said that over 55 individual community colleges in North Carolina, including Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Lenoir, will each be making their own decisions on whether to sign or not. Long said that information has been provided by the state elections board.
"With the governance structure, the decision about whether an individual (community) college will participate will rest with that local (community) college," Long said.
With the deadline fast approaching, N.C. Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone) co-sponsored a bill, House Bill 167, that would extend the deadline for student ID voter attestation to Sept. 15.
Russell said he has spoken with Shanahan and ASU leadership on the issue.
“I am confident that they are working in good faith to resolve this issue and make sure students can vote with their student IDs,” Russell said.
Russell, who is serving his first term as a state representative, is an ASU computer sciences professor and wants to maintain the momentum of young people voting from the 2018 election.
“The 2018 elections showed encouraging participation among young voters,” Russell said at a press event on Feb. 26. “We finally have more participation among young voters and don’t need to do anything that would make that more difficult.”
S.L. 2018-144 was declared unconstitutional by Wake County Superior Court on Feb. 22, but Russell said on Feb. 26 that he expects that ruling to be stayed pending an appeal.