The former president of the state chapter of the College Democrats testified today that North Carolina’s new election law made it much more difficult for college students to vote. Louis Duke, a graduate of Campbell University in Harnett County, took the witness stand in a closely watched trial in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem. Several groups, including the N.C. NAACP and the U.S. Department of Justice, are suing the state and Gov. Pat McCrory over House Bill 589, which became law in August 2013. The law eliminated same-day voter registration, reduced the days of early voting from 17 to 10 and prohibited out-of-precinct provisional voting, among other things. Duke said that after the law, known as the Voter Information Verification Act, was passed, many students across North Carolina were confused and misinformed about what the law required. Duke said he helped organize voter registration drives for college students. The elimination of same-day voter registration made such efforts more difficult because there was a shorter amount of time to get students registered, Duke said. In North Carolina, the deadline to register to vote is 25 days before the election.
The shortened early voting period also created obstacles for students because students cannot easily miss classes in the same way that someone might be able to reschedule a doctor’s appointment, Duke said.
The law also required people to have photo IDs by 2016, but many students thought the requirement would apply in the November 2014 election, Duke said. Students were also confused, Duke said, by proposed legislation that was introduced in 2013 that would have eliminated tax exemptions for parents whose children registered to vote at their college campuses instead of in their hometowns. The bill did not pass the General Assembly.
But the proposed legislation and North Carolina’s election law discouraged students from voting, he said. “When you add a layer of fear and intimidation, it created an environment that young people feel unwanted but not allowed in the election system,” he said.