Student Voting Guide | North Carolina

October 10, 2014

This student voting guide explains the laws for the state of North Carolina. If you wish to vote from your school address, check the student voting guide for the state where you attend school. If you want to cast an absentee ballot in your home state, check the student voting guide for that state.

The Brennan Center is committed to giving students as much information as possible to help you exercise your constitutional right to vote. More than ever in recent history, changes to voting laws are being implemented in ways that can affect your ability to make your vote count. In addition to the content you will find in this Student Voting Guide, we continue to track passed and pending voting law changes here. While we are working to give you up-to-date information, we urge you to be proactive! In order to ensure you have all the information you need before casting your vote, you should also check with your state and local election officials for information about additional requirements or regulations.

This voting guide was last updated October 10, 2014.


As of October 2014, North Carolina’s voter registration provisions are subject to ongoing litigation. As of October 2014, the following is in effect:

The regular voter registration deadline is 25 days before Election Day for forms that are hand-delivered or mailed to your county board of elections office.  If you mail in your form it must be postmarked by that deadline.[1]  Registration forms are also accepted via fax and email, but only if the original form is also received by the county board of elections no later than 20 days before the election.[2] You can download and print a voter registration form here.

If you turn 18 after the deadline for registration, you can still submit a registration form to either a member of the county board of elections or a precinct judge on Election Day.[3] You can also vote in a primary election if you will be 18 by the next general election.[4]  If you have been convicted of a felony, it may impact your ability to vote.  If you think you might be affected, you should contact your local election officials.


At School. Students can establish residency in North Carolina if they have a present intention to remain at their North Carolina school address for the time being, and they intend to make it their principal home.  Any other interpretation of the residency laws is unconstitutional.  You do not have to intend to stay in North Carolina after graduation or have any definite plans, as long as you do not currently intend to return to your former home.[5] If your registration is denied by the county board of elections based on your residency, you will be given notice and may appeal within five days.[6]

At Home. Students who lived in North Carolina before moving elsewhere to attend school, and who wish to establish or keep their North Carolina voting residency (i.e., at their parents’ North Carolina address), should have no problem doing so unless they have already registered to vote in another state.  Like most states, North Carolina allows students to keep voting residency even if they move to attend school, and the only way you will lose this residency is by establishing residency in a new state.  Casting a ballot in another state is considered an abandonment of residency under North Carolina law,[7] and students who have voted in other states will have to follow the normal registration procedures if you wish to vote again in North Carolina. 

Challenges to Residency. Students have the right to establish residency as a resident of North Carolina regardless of student or tuition status.  In specific circumstances, North Carolina law allows another registered voter[8] to challenge your eligibility to vote; this challenge must be in writing, under oath, and set forth specific reasons for the challenge to your residency or eligibility to vote.[9] If election officials believe there is reason to investigate the challenge, you will be given notice and an opportunity for a hearing before the County Board of Elections.[10]  If your registration is denied again, you may appeal to the Superior Court within ten days.[11]

In addition, your eligibility to vote based on residency can be challenged when you are at the polls by any other voter who is registered in your county.[12]  Students have the right to cast a ballot as a resident of North Carolina regardless of whether they pay in-state or out-of-state tuition.  Any challenge made solely on the basis of your student or tuition status is invalid.  If you are challenged, precinct officials will hold a hearing at the polls to determine whether to reject or uphold the challenge; you may prove your residency by taking an oath stating your qualifications to vote.[13]  If the challenge is upheld by poll workers, you may vote a challenged ballot (which is not counted unless an election’s results are contested),[14] but you can appeal to court to have your ballot counted.[15]

Voting in North Carolina may be considered a declaration of residency, potentially making you subject to other laws that govern state residents. 


As of October 2014, North Carolina’s photo ID requirement is currently subject to ongoing litigation. Please consult with your local election official to verify the requirement’s current status. As of October 2014, the following is in effect:

If you are a first-time North Carolina voter who registered by mail and whose identifying numbers (North Carolina driver’s license or non-driver’s ID number; last four digits of Social Security number) have not been verified by the state, you will need to show ID when you vote in person or when you cast an absentee ballot.[16]  If you have to provide ID under this rule, you should be notified by the county.  Acceptable proof of ID includes: a current and valid photo identification or any of the following that shows your name and current registration address: a current utility bill, a bank statement, a government check, a paycheck, or other government document.[17]

If you cannot show the required ID, you will be allowed to vote a provisional ballot, which will be counted if you later provide the required ID to the county board of elections within ten days after the election.[18]

As of January 2014, poll workers may ask voters for a photo ID, but a photo ID is not required to vote until January 2016. Starting in January 2016, acceptable ID includes: a North Carolina driver’s license, learner’s permit, or provisional license; a North Carolina non-driver ID card; a U.S. passport; a U.S. military ID or Veterans ID card; an enrollment card from a federally or North Carolina-recognized tribe; or an out-of-state driver’s license but only for 90 days after the voter registers in North Carolina.[19] No student IDs will be accepted. The ID must have a printed expiration date and be unexpired, or an issuance date no more than 8 years before it is presented for voting.[20]

Starting in January 2016, if you cannot show the required ID, you will be allowed to vote a provisional ballot, which will be counted if you later provide the required ID to the county board of elections by noon on the day prior to the election canvass.[21]

Starting in January 2016, voters who have a religious objection to being photographed, or are victims of a natural disaster occurring within 60 days before election day are exempt from the photo ID requirement.[22] Starting in January 2016, voters who utilize curbside voting because of their age or physical disability may present a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document in place of a photo ID.[23]

Starting in January 2014, voters who do not have acceptable photo ID may apply for a free non-driver’s ID card from the Division of Motor Vehicles.[24] To apply, you must present proof of age and identity, Social Security number, and residence.[25] Acceptable documents are listed on the DMV website.

Absentee Voting

Any registered voter can vote absentee.[26]

To vote absentee by mail, you must complete a written request form provided by the State Board.[27] The form must include your name, address, date of birth, DMV ID number or the last 4 digits of your Social Security number, and your signature.[28] Your county elections office must receive your request to vote absentee by 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before Election Day.[29]

After receiving your request and verifying that you are eligible to vote, the county board of elections will mail you a blank absentee ballot along with instructions on how to vote and return your ballot to the county board of elections.[30]  When you fill out your absentee ballot, it must be witnessed by two people over the age of 18 who will then have to sign your ballot envelope.[31] Alternatively, you may fill out your ballot in the presence of a notary public, who must sign and place a notary seal on the envelope.[32] Your county elections office must receive your absentee ballot (either by mail or in person) by 5:00 p.m. on Election Day.[33]

Early Voting

As of October 2014, North Carolina’s early voting program is subject to ongoing litigation. As of October 2014, the following is in effect:

As a convenience to voters, North Carolina has early voting, called “One-Stop” voting, beginning on the 2nd Thursday before an election and ending on the Saturday before Election Day.[34] You should check with your county elections office for the exact dates, times and locations for early voting.

Last Updated October 10, 2014

[1] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-82.6(c).

[2] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-82.6(c1).

[3] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-82.6(d).

[4] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-59.

[5] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-57(11).

[6] N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 163-82.18, 163-82.7.

[7] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-57(6).

[8] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-85.


[10] N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 163-85, 163-86.

[11] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-90.2

[12] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-87.

[13] N.C. Gen. Stat. §163-88.

[14] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-88.1.

[15] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-90.2.

[16] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-166.12.

[17] Id.

[18] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-166.12(c).

[19] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-166.13.

[20] Id.

[21] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-182.1A.

[22] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-166.13.

[23] N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 163-166.13, 163-166.9, 163-166.12.

[24] Non-operator ID Cards, Voter ID, and No-Fee ID Cards, N.C. Div. of Motor Vehicles, (last visited Aug. 8, 2014).

[25] Non-operator ID Cards, Voter ID, and No-Fee ID Cards, N.C. Div. of Motor Vehicles, (last visited Aug. 8, 2014).

[26] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-226(a).

[27] N.C. Gen. Stat. § § 163-230.1; 163-230.2.

[28] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-230.2.

[29] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-230.1.


[31] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-231(a).

[32] Id.

[33] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-231(b).

[34] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-227.2(b).   This is the same voting place as One-Stop-Absentee voting.