College students in North Carolina will be able to use their campus address to vote in the midterm election without jeopardizing their financial aid.
That might sound simple enough, but it’s something that appears to be generating confusion in a state that last year tried to restrict student voting.
That came as welcome news for advocate groups, but many students apparently never got the message.
“Young people are very confused about the law and requirements,” said Bryan Perlmutter, a recent NC State graduate and director of Ignite North Carolina.
North Carolina isn’t the only state where turnout in the midterm elections could be deterred by confusion over voter-registration procedures.
More than half of all states this year put forth some 83 bills that would make it more difficult for people to cast ballots, according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin have already passed restrictive measures to limit early voting, require identification, and curtail same-day registration. Other states are attempting similar measures, resulting in a broader confusion as to where the law stands now.
Perlmutter and other youth advocates say the confusion is not unintentional.
“It’s part of a larger problem of disincentivizing students to vote,” said Lisa Maatz, head lobbyist for the American Association of University Women’s (AAUW). “At a time in students’ lives when we should be encouraging them to make voting a habit, we’re putting up unnecessary barriers.”
In North Carolina, Perlmutter says his organization and other groups are working to disseminate voter-registration information to students. But he says certain counties are making it difficult. For example, he said, Wake County, home to NC State, recently eliminated an early voting precinct on campus.
“It’s becoming obvious these are intentional efforts to disenfranchise young people,” he said.
David Robinson, chair of the Wake County Board of Elections, insists that’s not the case. He says students will be able to vote on campus the day of the election, as they have in the past.
He explained that the country didn’t decided to eliminate the on-campus precinct for early voting, because one never existed — at least for midterm elections. The state did install one for the 2012 presidential elections, but that was because turnout is typically much higher then.
“I can come up with 40 sites in Wake County that are better [early voting sites],” Robinson said. He noted that turnout on campus during the 2010 midterm was the second worst in the state, around 18 percent. If student participation in the elections increases in these elections, the board will consider putting an early voting precinct there for 2016, he said.
Robinson says his message to students is: If they want an early voting precinct on campus, they have to “earn it.”
Critics claim that logic is backwards. Perlmutter says more students would vote in the midterms if were easier to do so. Instead, they’ll have to travel several miles off campus to reach a polling place.
Kathy Culliton-Gonzalez, a senior attorney and director of Voter Protection for Advancement Project, says her organization is currently in litigation with several states —including North Carolina — over allegations of racial and age discrimination in voting laws.
She said her organization is “worried that students are feeling confused” by measures that were implemented to intentionally “repress student voting.”
Maatz, the AAUW lobbyist, agrees. “I don’t think we should underestimate the power of rumor.”
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.