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Survey shows 3 percent of ND college students had trouble voting in November

FARGO – A new survey from North Dakota State University found that about 3 percent of North Dakota college students who tried to vote in November’s election “were unable to participate due to confusion over residency requirements.”

The survey, conducted by the Upper Midwest Regional Center on Public Policy at NDSU and released Tuesday, comes after the North Dakota Legislature eliminated the voter affidavit option in 2013, which allowed someone to cast a ballot without proper identification. IDs had to reflect the voter’s current precinct 30 days before the November election in order to vote there.

Almost 93 percent of survey respondents who tried to vote were successful. Out of the 79 students surveyed who tried to vote but were unsuccessful, 36 reported some issue related to their residential address, while others had issues related to absentee ballots or other issues.

“I had heard from some students in my classes and then there were reports in the newspapers, that there had been some confusion and some people hadn’t gotten to vote,” said Nick Bauroth, director of the Upper Midwest Regional Center on Public Policy. “So we were trying to figure out to what extent this problem existed or not.”

Invitations for the survey were sent to 49,000 students at the 11 North Dakota University System institutions after the election, and 1,800 completed the survey.

Of the 551 University of North Dakota student respondents who tried to vote, 93.3 percent did so successfully, while 2.9 percent were unsuccessful due to “address problems,” the survey reported. Another 1.6 percent were unsuccessful due to absentee voter problems and the other 2.2 percent reported a miscellaneous issue like attempting to vote after hours.

Using voter turnout rates in the counties in which the universities were located, the survey estimated that 168 UND students were unable to vote due to residency problems, while 213 at NDSU had the same issue.

Bauroth said the survey helps illustrate that changes in law can have unintended consequences.

“Minor tweaks here and there can impact the ability for people to vote,” he said. “And a couple percentage points or so doesn’t sound like much of an issue until you realize that we’re talking about hundreds of students who wanted to vote and weren’t able to.”

Several voter identification initiatives are in the works during this year’s legislative session. One bill that was drafted in conjunction with the Secretary of State’s Office, House Bill 1333, would eliminate the student certificates used during the most recent election. The bill would allow for bills and bank statements to be used to help prove residency.

Rep. Kylie Oversen, D-Grand Forks, is concerned the bill would eliminate the student certificates, but supports allowing the use of bills and bank statements.

“The hard part for students, especially if they’re living in a dorm room, they’re not going to have a utility bill or something similar to that,” she said.

Jim Silrum, the deputy Secretary of State, said he didn’t have a chance to review the NDSU study Wednesday.

“There was a small number of people in our estimation that had difficulty,” Silrum said. “We’re hoping that the Legislature will appropriately address the fixes that we’ve put forward to be a help to those small number of people who had some sort of difficulty in 2014.”

Another bill, Senate Bill 2330, would require state colleges and universities to provide student ID cards that contain a birthday and residential address. That bill will be heard in the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee today.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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