Gov. Pat McCrory is continuing to cause a stir during his time in office.
House Bill 589 — known commonly as the voter ID bill — is the most recent controversial legislation to make its way past McCrory’s desk. The bill, which was signed into law Aug. 12, requires presentation of a government-issued photo identification at election times. But student IDs will not be acceptable forms of identification, which is raising eyebrows in North Carolina’s education system.
The bill will also reduce early voting by a week, eliminate same-day registration and end pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds, making the democratic process more difficult for young voters in the area.
Leo Lambert, president of Elon University, is among those puzzled by the bill. According to Lambert, Elon students are encouraged to vote as early and as often as possible. In 2012, the university partnered with TurboVote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that allows students to register and submit an absentee ballot at election times, all with the click of a mouse.
“It takes all the mystery out of the voter registration process,” Lambert said. “We’re really behind that and really want to urge our students, since they’re legally able to vote, to do so.”
But H.B. 589 has the potential to eliminate the ease for college students, and Lambert said he recognizes the possibility of silencing students in the democratic process.
“This legislation is clearly making it more difficult for students to vote on local issues,” he said. “I think this whole business of making it difficult for people to vote is not a good thing. I look at the whole process with a very skeptical eye and worry a lot about the people who may get disenfranchised by the process.”
Lambert isn’t the only one who’s skeptical. In the days following the bill’s signing, civil rights groups — including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) — filed lawsuits against North Carolina, claiming the bill would make it more difficult for minorities to vote.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, explained the group’s displeasure with the bill. According to Barber, the NAACP would support McCrory if he would direct his attention to what the organization calls more meaningful areas. But that has not been the case, Barber said.
“Economics, education, health, criminal justice and voting are paramount pillars to our society, who we are as a people beyond the divisive categories of Republican and Democrat and black versus white,” he said. “Instead, what we saw in the first 50 days of this legislature’s government, they decided to go drink the Red Bull of extremism.”
The voter ID bill is the latest in a series of items during McCrory’s tenure that have earned criticism: The state legislature also recently passed a bill allowing concealed carry on North Carolina college campuses. Additionally, McCrory caused a stir among students in February when he criticized liberal arts majors at public state universities, suggesting those majors were not substantive or beneficial in the long run.
But Welsford Bishopric, executive president of Elon’s Student Government Association, said he recognizes McCrory’s difficult position. As a student and politician, Bishopric said he has mixed feelings on H.B. 589.
“We’re being forced, as a population, to choose between the security that surrounds our voting procedures versus the freedom that we have to operate in our communities,” he said. “On a personal level, I’m always going to take freedom, but I think the reason behind the controversy is that [H.B. 589] is limiting the use of something that is so closely correlated with freedom of expression. I think that students are very good at calling attention to something that they think is unfair, so I think that’s contributing to it.”
Despite the controversy surrounding McCrory and his recent legislative decisions, though, Bishopric said he has faith in the governor to reverse recent trends of disappointment.
“As a North Carolina citizen, I know there’s always multiple sides to an issue. There have been some bills that have come across the governor’s desk that I’ve personally disagreed with, but that’s the nature of being a citizen in a free democratic republic,” he said. “I think, in the long run, North Carolina is a good place with genuinely good people, and I think we’ll come out on top.”
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