North Carolina’s new voter ID law, currently being litigated in federal court in Winston-Salem, is an election lawyer’s dream. Ending same-day registration, cutting early voting from 17 days to 10, eliminating a popular high school civics program encouraging students to register before they turn 18, expanding poll “observers” and instituting the country’s toughest photo ID requirement, the statute is a cornucopia of voter restriction. Small wonder we’ve been sued by the federal government. Winston Churchill once rejected a dessert by saying: “Take away that pudding; it has no theme.” The same cannot be said of our voter ID bill. It changes election law in dozens of disparate and intersecting ways. The principal features have only this in common: Each makes it harder to vote than it was before. Such is life, here, at the leading edge of American voter suppression. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that one of the potent challenges to the statute hasn’t been seen in our voting rights jurisprudence before. Seven college students from across the state argue that the oddly constructed identification measure violates the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. You remember it, the provision that reduced the voting age from 21 to 18 and says, interestingly, that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged … on account of age.”
Marc Elias, the students’ attorney, claims straightforwardly that the “changes to the election law were intended to make it more difficult for young people to vote.” Indeed they were.
In 2016, a government photo ID will be required to vote. Acceptable state-issued identification cards, however, don’t include university IDs, even those of public universities. Nor will out of state driver’s licenses be accepted for qualified voters, even though they’d settle any purported identity question. As one plaintiff put it, many students don’t have a state identification card and “they’ll arrive at the polling place carrying out of state licenses and student IDs.”
Our current leaders don’t like the way young people vote. Nationally, those under 30 cast more than 20 million ballots in the 2012 presidential election. North Carolina had one of the highest under-30 turnout rates in the country. And they opted for President Obama by massive margins. As with blacks and Latinos, the sin is unforgivable.