North Dakota University System Threatens Students With Loss of Scholarships if They Vote

The North Dakota University System, which oversees the state’s public colleges, is telling students they could lose their financial aid and scholarships if they vote using a sworn affidavit.

“Students should exercise care in choosing this option,” the university system tells students in a voter information guide titled “What college students need to know about voting.”

“If a student has a scholarship that is tied to the student’s residency, signing that affidavit might jeopardize that scholarship,” the guide says.

It seems strange that NDUS would be warning students against using sworn affidavits, given that last month, a federal judge ordered North Dakota to offer affidavits as a voting option this year.

Affidavits are known as a “fail-safe” provision. They allow people who don’t have valid IDs to vote by signing a document promising that they’re a resident in the district where they’re voting.

The judge’s order on Sept. 20 was the result of a successful lawsuit by Native Americans who sued in January to block Republican legislation that eliminated sworn affidavits as a voting option in 2013.

The judge ruled that eliminating “fail-safe” provisions like the sworn affidavit created an “undue burden” on Native Americans and others trying to vote.

Tom Dickson, the Bismarck lawyer who represents the Native Americans in that case, says of NDUS’s voter guide: “This is beyond inappropriate.” He told Mean Read to stay in touch with him this week.

No details have been provided explaining how, exactly, voting using a sworn affidavit would affect a North Dakota college student’s scholarship.

If students vote at their school rather than at their “permanent home address,” NDUS says, “There could be consequences to your residency status and if you have any scholarships that are tied to your residency. Check with your Financial Aid office to be sure that you would not be jeopardizing any of your financial aid awards.”

We requested explanations from NDUS and North Dakota State University spokespeople and didn’t get a response.

We also emailed the entire North Dakota State Board of Higher Education, and heard back from faculty advisor Ernst Pijning, who said, “I was not aware of this. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”

We’ll update this as we get more information.