State Clarifies Student Voter ID Rules | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's note: The author of this post is Barry Smith, who is an associate editor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.

Out-of-state students must be treated like other recent transplants


    RALEIGH     The Division of Motor Vehicles and the State Board of Education appear to have worked out a hiccup in the state's new voter identification law that could have made it harder for some out-of-state students attending college in North Carolina to vote. The DMV now has guidelines directing its officers to issue a special voter ID card to students, and others with out-of-state driver's licenses, allowing them to vote while notifying them they have 60 days to get a North Carolina driver's license.

    The change came after two interns working for the liberal-leaning Democracy North Carolina had difficulty obtaining a special DMV photo ID card for voters. The two, one from Texas and one from Georgia, were told by local DMV officials that they were not eligible for a free ID for voting, Democracy NC's website reported. The interns were told they would need to surrender their out-of-state driver's licenses and get North Carolina driver's licenses.

    The DMV officials "had been construing the statute to say they're constrained because an individual can use their out-of-state driver's license within 60 days of getting here," said Josh Lawson, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections. "We have since clarified our position."

    The voter ID law, approved last year by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, allows voters to obtain a free photo ID from the DMV only if they don't have another acceptable photo ID. An out-of-state driver's license is listed in the statute as a valid photo ID, but only for 60 days after the voter registers to vote.

    Lawson notes that the DMV also will be advising those voters that if they plan to operate a motor vehicle in North Carolina, they must change their out-of-state driver's license to a North Carolina driver's license within 60 days.

    Indeed, DMV policy states that officials are required to complete student applications for a free photo ID, and advise the customer of the 60-day deadline to transfer an out-of-state driver's license to a North Carolina license. A notation of the voter's out-of-state license will appear on the back of voter ID cards, according to the DMV guidelines.

    Similar guidelines are in place for nonstudents who have moved to North Carolina and have an out-of-state driver's license.

    N.C. Supreme Court rulings have established that students who live in a college town have a right to vote in that town.

    "There are two cases in the 1970s that were decided in regards to the rights of students registered to vote where they attend school," said Don Wright, general counsel to the State Board of Elections. "The current right is founded both in case law and statutory law."

    In a 1972 N.C. Supreme Court case, Hall v. Wake County Board of Education, the state's high court ruled that an adult student may maintain a domicile and vote at a college address, provided the student regards the place as his or her home, intends to stay there indefinitely, and has no intention of returning to his former home.

    However, Justice Susie Sharp, who later would become chief justice, wrote that the student cannot consider the college address his domicile if he intends to remain there only until his education is completed and does not alter his intention.

    A 1979 N.C. Supreme Court case, Lloyd v. Babb, expanded students' voting rights. In that case, Justice James Exum, another future chief justice, ruled that questioning a student's residence intentions sets them apart from any other type of voter, making those questions inappropriate.

    "If searching inquiry were made and if the proper questions were posed, prospective voters in other walks would respond that they planned to stay until they were promoted, until they got a new or different job, until they retired, until a contract was finished, until a term of office was over, until an election was won or lost, and so on," Exum wrote. "'Graduation' is no more or less certain to occur than these other events. Neither, quite often, are students' plans after graduation more or less certain than plans of others pending the occurrence of one of these other events."

    The General Assembly later codified the N.C. Supreme Court cases into statute.

    "So long as a student intends to make the student's home in the community where the student is physically present for the purpose of attending school while the student is attending school and has no intent to return to the student's former home after graduation, the student may claim the college community as the student's domicile," state law now reads. "The student need not also intend to stay in the college community beyond graduation in order to establish domicile there."
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