GRAND FORKS -- North Dakota student leaders are supportive of legislation that would make it easier for college students to vote, with a few adjustments.
House Bill 1447 would require universities and colleges in North Dakota to include the date of birth and residential address on student photo identification cards. The card could then be used to confirm a student's residence when voting. When issuing the ID cards to students, an institution also would need to provide each student with information regarding voter eligibility requirements.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Claire Cory, R-Grand Forks, said she decided to introduce the legislation because she believes it is something that “benefits students around this state.”
Similar legislation was brought up during the 2015 legislative session and ultimately failed in the House. At that time, legislators pointed to a few key issues, including the fact that the IDs are used as keycards for residence halls and students sometimes lose them. One legislator also expressed concerns, at the time, that the student IDs could create an identification outside of the state’s central voter file.
Not knowing how long someone has been living in the state can be problematic, Cory acknowledges, but she noted the bill requires the institutions to provide students with information on voter requirements.
“We also know that students purchase fuel and buy clothing in the state,” she said. “While most have jobs in the state, students pay taxes and live in the state for about nine months out of the year, so they should be allowed to vote as well.”
She added that if the bill passes, she hopes more students will vote and become involved with the political process.
The bill has the backing of the North Dakota Student Association, though students did have some concerns about whether it is safe to have a residential address printed on a student identification card. The NDSA represents students from across the state on legislative and other various issues in the North Dakota University System.
Gracie Lian, president of the North Dakota Student Association and a graduate student at UND, said student leaders plan for legislators to amend the bill to make the date of birth and address optional.
“I think that the spirit of the bill, and creating something that allows it to be easier for students to vote, is something incredibly important, and that we support as an organization wholeheartedly,” Lian said. “But I don't think that the final bill would be completely supported by students with the way it looks currently.”
Additionally, if students don’t vote in North Dakota they may not see a reason to have that sort of information on their student ID card, UND Student Body President Matthew Ternus said.
He does, however, believe the student ID cards would make it easier to vote for students.
“I definitely think that this kind of breaks down some barriers for students voting,” he said. “This would be huge for students that want to vote in town. ... For students that live in the dorms, you can't really get a utility bill from the housing office, so this definitely helps in cases like that.”
The North Dakota Student Association is looking to oppose another piece of legislation that would greatly expand the residency requirement for North Dakota voters, from 30 days to a year. That same bill, HB 1289, would increase the number of days someone has to live in a district to vote, from 30 days to 90 days.
Lian said that legislation would likely make it more difficult for students – especially freshmen who may not have lived in the district prior – to vote.
“If you are a freshman, and it's your first year at the university, that one completely barred you from voting, even if you have moved to North Dakota, do not have a permanent address in another state anymore and completely intend to make Dakota your residence," she said. "It really adversely affects the student population compared to almost all other populations.”