Identification cards for students at most of the University of North Carolina system campuses fell short of qualifications set in state law to comply with a new photo voter identification requirement next year, state elections officials said Friday.
Friday was the deadline for the State Board of Elections to certify which ID cards for universities, community colleges, American Indian tribes and government agencies meet security standards set in the law. The cards are but one of several ID types that, if shown, meet the new requirement when a voter goes to a polling place. Others include driver's licenses or military IDs.
More than 70 institutions had their submissions approved, but cards for students or students and employees at 12 of the 17 UNC system campuses failed to meet the requirements, board Executive Director Kim Strach wrote . They include the system's flagship campus, UNC-Chapel Hill, with 30,000 students. Separately, UNC Healthcare employee IDs also were rejected.
Current law says the institutions that fell short can't seek to get their cards approved again until 2021, but some lawmakers have suggested Friday's original deadline could be extended. Extending the qualifying ID to public and private universities was a big change added to the voter ID law approved in December, after the 2013 voter ID law that prohibited their use was struck down in court.
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Republican lawmakers declined to immediately extend the deadline this week when they quickly passed legislation delaying the start of requiring photo ID until the 2020 elections. Otherwise, voter ID could have been required in an upcoming special congressional election. Still, the delay gives the General Assembly more time to figure out what to do.
"Once the deadline has passed, we'll know exactly what the problems are," said Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican who shepherded ID legislation through the General Assembly.
The issues may extend well beyond the disapproved UNC institutions, which had already signaled they may fall short of the requirements. Less than 10 percent of the 850 schools, government agencies and tribes eligible to have their ID cards approved even submitted requests, Strach wrote in a letter to General Assembly leaders.
"In some cases institutions raised concerns that they believed they could not meet the current statutory requirements," she wrote. "Others requested additional time to submit their request."
Strach said the problems occurred in two areas.
The law said that institution leaders had to attest, under penalty of perjury that the ID cards contained photographs taken by the school or government or its contractors. But some applications described how the student or employee could provide a photo, Strach wrote.
Another standard includes confirming a student's or worker's identity by checking the person's Social Security number, citizenship status and birthdate during enrollment or the employment application process. Some universities confirm identities by other means, and some high school students who take college classes receive ID cards without that process, Strach said.
"I wanted to bring the reasons for the disapprovals to your attention in hopes that there can be a legislative remedy so that more identification cards can be approved in advance of the 2020 elections when photo identification will be required to vote," Strach told lawmakers.
The UNC system didn't immediately have a comment Friday evening on the disapprovals, spokesman Jason Tyson said. The rejection of some of their applications apparently surprised some lawmakers.
The board "has the final say in approving those certifications, but it appears to me that they all meet the requirements passed by the legislature," Sen. Warren Daniel, a Burke County Republican, said Thursday, when hearing that all 17 UNC schools — with over 220,000 students — had turned in their applications.
In a news release, the North Carolina Democratic Party called the rejections a "Republican-created" and "Republican-led" problem "driven by the GOP's determination to silence young voters," and party legislators said it could have been avoided by delaying Friday's deadline earlier this week.
The December voter ID law or a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November mandating IDs are the subject of three pending lawsuits in state and federal court.