In early July, two of our Democracy Summer interns, Alyssa and Bradley, attempted to get a photo ID that would work for voting in 2016. They are both originally from other states – Texas and Georgia, respectively – but have been students in North Carolina for the last 3+ years and neither plan to return to their state of origin. They are also both registered, active North Carolina voters, and have been voting here since 2012.* Unfortunately, neither the instructions provided by the State Board of Elections nor the DMV speak clearly to the experience of out-of-state students, which left both women to assume that they qualified for a free NC ID for voting.
In both cases, the interns were told by DMV examiners that they were not eligible for a free ID for voting. Instead, they would need to turn over their out-of-state license and get a NC driver’s license. Understandably, both women balked at the idea of losing their driver’s licenses, since they weren’t prepared to do so. In Orange County, Alyssa was ultimately able to pay $10 for a NC ID that could be used for voting in 2016 without having to turn over her out-of-state license. In Forsyth County, Bradley was told that she was not even eligible for a NC driver’s license at her current address because it was on a college campus. Ultimately, both DMV examiners admitted to the students that they themselves didn’t understand the requirements for the free voter ID.
Some of the comments that were made on Bradley’s blog post in particular were misleading, insulting, and incorrect about student residency for purposes of voting. Neither student was attempting to do anything underhanded, let alone fraudulent. They were simply trying to prepare for the 2016 in-person photo ID requirement using state-provided instructions.
Our Democracy Summer students are real people committed to improving access to democracy, and your comments have an impact on them. In Bradley’s words, “The fraud comments were especially hurtful. As someone who is getting their license to teach in NC and who has spent four years here, my right to vote here is already established.”
Their experiences demonstrate just how confusing the new photo ID mandate is – to out-of-state students like Alyssa and Bradley, and to the DMV staff whose job it is to implement the new law – as well as the need for clear, explicit instructions about how the new rules apply to out-of-state students. Democracy NC is currently following up with the DMV to get clarification.
* A note on student residency for voting purposes: Unless the student plans to return to their home state (or county) upon completing their education at a North Carolina college or university, s/he may register and vote in their campus community. Retaining an out-of-state driver’s license does not invalidate an out-of-state student’s claim to NC residency for purposes of voting.