The Davidsonian (Independent Student Journalism Since 1914): By Joe DeMartin ’21 and Cutler Renard ‘20
How hard can it be? Everyone has an ID, right?
But imagine you’ve never been able to afford a car, so you take the bus to work. Or imagine you’re a senior citizen who hasn’t driven for years; your license is expired, and your children live far away, so you walk to your local store for all your needs.
Under the voter ID laws implemented in many states, millions of Americans have been effectively disenfranchised because they lack a government-issued ID.
An active driver’s license or passport is a privilege, and over twenty million Americans lack any of the ID forms required to exercise their constitutional right to vote under these laws.
After the recent passage of a voter ID law in North Carolina, Davidson students were nearly disenfranchised in this way too, and thousands of students across the state still could be.
Now imagine you’re a student at a small liberal arts college in a swing state.
You’ve switched your voter registration to your new campus address after some student political group leader waved a registration form at you during a club fair. You read up on the issues and candidates, and walk to your polling place at your local town hall on Election Day excited to cast your vote.
But when you get there, the poll workers tell you that you’ll need an accepted form of ID to be allowed to vote.
You pull out your driver’s license from your home state, but only in-state licenses are accepted. Your passport would work, but it’s back home in a drawer next to your middle school soccer plaque.
You remember seeing someone in the news claiming that student IDs would be accepted, but when you try to use your student card, the poll worker says your school’s ID wasn’t approved by the state. Congratulations on participating in democracy!
Make no mistake, students are at the top of the target list for voter suppression.
Much has been made of young people staying home on Election Day, but when legislatures pass confusing laws that create barriers for student voting, it’s not the young people failing democracy.
While voter suppression might feel like something that happens in other places, ID requirements are being used to undermine your right to vote right here in Davidson.
After the passage of a state constitutional amendment requiring voter ID, the Republican majority in the North Carolina state legislature rushed to enact a bill last December to limit which forms of ID could be accepted.
Though this law ostensibly included a process for the NC State Board of Elections to approve student IDs for voting, the bill’s requirements were so onerous that a majority of North Carolina colleges and universities were either rejected or never applied, including schools like UNC Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, and UNC Charlotte.
In addition, the bill set an application deadline of March 15th, 2019, giving schools only three months to prepare their submissions.
Davidson’s General Counsel Sarah Phillips worked hard to submit an application before the deadline. However, given the law’s restrictions, Davidson’s only option was to prepare a new ID separate from the CatCard that could just be used as a voter ID.
Though this second ID would have been better than having no approved ID at all, obtaining it would have meant an additional hurdle for student voting.
By June, public outcry pressured the state legislature to alter the requirements for student IDs and to extend the deadline to October 26th.
As the Chair of the Center for Political Engagement and the President of Davidson College Democrats, our work as student political leaders directly comes with a responsibility to advocate for student voting rights. When we learned that the law had been revised, we began to wonder if the changes would offer Davidson an opportunity to change our state-approved voting ID to the CatCard and offer the easiest ID option for students.
After spending hours over the last several months researching the changes to the law, long conversations seeking advice from election lawyers and voting rights experts, and many calls with NC State Board of Elections officials, we began to be confident that the revisions to the law would allow the CatCard to be approved as our voting ID.
We communicated our thoughts to Davidson’s President, Carol Quillen and Phillips. They were able to cooperate directly with State Board of Elections staff to prepare Davidson’s application proposal.
With the deadline only days away, just four other North Carolina schools have applied. Thousands of students across the state could lack any form of accepted ID for the 2020 election.
Quillen and Phillips plan to submit our application for the CatCard to the State Board of Elections this week.
With luck, the ID card held by every Davidson student will soon be accepted as a North Carolina voting ID.
The existence of any ID requirement at all represents an unacceptable barrier for every North Carolinian’s voting rights. But for as long as the NC state legislature passes these laws, we believe that Davidson must continue to minimize that barrier for our students in every way possible.
We’re lucky to have college administrators who are committed to doing whatever they can to defend students’ right to vote. By acting decisively this week to make voting easier for our students, Davidson will set an example for the rest of the state.
When politicians threaten fundamental rights, all of us at Davidson have a responsibility to stand up against them.
Whether by registering, volunteering, marching, canvassing, or advocating, defending democracy in a time of crisis demands that we act rather than observe from afar.
Democracy isn’t something we can take for granted. Our votes count, and our voices matter; there wouldn’t be so much of an effort made to suppress us if it were otherwise.
Joe DeMartin ’21 is an English and political science double major from Baltimore, Maryland. Cutler Renard ’20 is a classics major from Jacksonville, Florida. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.