North Dakota Democrats seem to be intensely focused on the college student vote at a time when they need to be focused on expanding their appeal beyond constituencies they already own.
Democrat Agriculture Commission candidate Ryan Taylor – instead of talking about ag or energy issues – has focused his campaign on student loans. The loose justification is that the North Dakota Industrial Commission (on which the Ag Commissioner has a seat) oversees the Bank of North Dakota which does a lot of business in student loans.
Democrat U.S. House candidate George Sinner used student loan legislation (which he named after himself even though he was neither its author nor prime sponsor) as the subject of his first television ad campaign.
Democrat Secretary of State candidate April Fairfield has been attacking Republican incumbent Al Jaeger over voter ID laws, and while she hasn’t necessarily emphasized the impact that will have on the student vote, there is no question that’s the concern Democrats have.
They are really, really worried that they aren’t going to have the student vote this election cycle. And for good reason.
In 2013 the North Dakota Legislature changed the state’s voter ID laws. While previously an ID was required, people without an ID could still cast a ballot by signing an affidavit declaring themselves a lawful voter. These votes were counted (over 10,000 in the 2012 election), but the validity of the affidavits were never checked.
That’s problematic, and prompted legislators to end the affidavits. Now voting in ND requires a valid ID defined as a North Dakota driver’s license, a non-driver’s ID, a tribal-issued ID, a student ID, or a long-term care ID.
Even with these new requirements, North Dakota’s voter laws are extremely loose. There is no voter registration here. All that’s required is residency for 30 days before election day and you can vote.
That, and a valid ID showing your current address. Which, of course, is what Democrats are worried about.
North Dakota has over 48,000 college students, most of them from out of state. This is a voting demographic that skews pretty heavily to the left, and is influenced by the leftward politics of most campuses. In the past, Democrats could count on these voters (most of whom will leave the state after their time on campus is done) to win legislative races and impact statewide competitions.
I think they’re afraid that new voter ID laws might keep them from showing up at the polls. That would be a serious blow to the traction Democrats are getting in some communities, particularly in the Red River valley. Ironically, at a time when Democrats are needing to expand their appeal beyond their traditional base, they’re having to focus on shoring up that base.
That’s not a good sign.
And by the way, there’s nothing wrong with the state’s voter ID laws. It may make it tougher to vote for kids who have nothing more invested in North Dakota than a couple of months in a dorm room, but the protections the law provides is common sense and badly needed given how loose our election laws have been to this point.