As North Dakota’s voter identification law continues to draw national attention over its effects on Native Americans, another group may hit some snags on Election Day: college students.
Unlike 2016, when thousands of voters signed an affidavit self-certifying their eligibility to cast a ballot, voters will be required to have a North Dakota ID next month. That could be a hurdle in places like Fargo, where more North Dakota State University students come from Minnesota than North Dakota.
Erik Hanson, the University of North Dakota's student body president, said he's heard questions from students about what IDs will be accepted at the ballot box.
“There’s definitely some confusion,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can to make sure we get the (information) out there.”
Cass County Auditor Michael Montplaisir said students need to be “proactive” by filing an absentee ballot in their home state or by obtaining a North Dakota ID.
“It’s no different than if you’re planning spring break,” said DeAnn Buckhouse, election coordinator for Cass County. “You have to plan ahead. Voting is the same way.”
An NDSU study of the 2014 election found that 3.2 percent of North Dakota college students were unable to vote “due to confusion over residency requirements.” That came after the state Legislature passed voter ID legislation that was later challenged in court by several Native Americans.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to vacate a lower court’s decision in the still-ongoing case, allowing the state to require proof of a residential street address rather than a mailing one. Tribal leaders have argued that street addresses aren’t always assigned on reservations, but state election officials said allowing voters to use a mailing address could lead to voters casting a ballot in the wrong precinct.
The case has drawn the attention of national political and entertainment figures. Singer Dave Matthews and actor Mark Ruffalo were scheduled to appear at a free concert Saturday at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to boost Native American turnout.
Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who’s facing a challenge this year from Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, argued earlier this year that the state’s voter ID laws “clearly target” Native Americans and college students. Republicans and state election officials dispute that allegation and have said the affidavits made it difficult to verify voters’ eligibility.
This year, poll workers will accept supplemental documentation like a bank statement or utility bill if an ID isn't current or is missing information. Voters who don’t have sufficient ID on Election Day have a week to produce one to ensure their vote is counted.
Voters may use a valid North Dakota driver's license, a nondriver's ID card issued by the state Department of Transportation, a tribal ID or a long-term care certificate. North Dakota is the only state without voter registration.
Hanson said he’s encouraging students to cast a ballot early to ensure that they can iron out any problems with their ID. But he said students who are motivated to vote typically look up voter ID requirements ahead of the election.
The North Dakota Student Association published a voting guide to inform students of voter ID requirements. Its president, NDSU senior Jared Melville, said there are "some students" from outside North Dakota who still have their home state ID, but he wasn't sure how many. He said it’s been hard to keep up with the flurry of voter ID changes ordered by the Legislature or the courts in recent years.
"When we have the laws changing leading up to the election, there can certainly be a degree of confusion among students," Melville said.
Democratic state Rep. Joshua Boschee, who’s running for secretary of state, chastised incumbent Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office for not running a more comprehensive voter education campaign. He noted the office’s Facebook page hasn’t been updated since August.
State election officials have argued court orders came too close to the election to make a more robust campaign feasible. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum said he reached out to individual campuses to encourage officials to publicize voting information in student newspapers and by other means.
Ultimately, Silrum said, voting on Nov. 6 will come down to preparation.
"If you were in any other state and you forgot to register to vote before the deadline, you weren't going to be allowed to vote either," he said. "It's not that the state laws are disenfranchising people, it's that people are quite often disenfranchising themselves."