Republicans are always looking for new and creative ways to keep Ohio’s college students from voting. Last year True the Vote tried to intimidate hundreds of students simply because they tend to vote for Democrats. This year, Republican legislators have decided to use the budget bill to intimidate universities into keeping their students away from the polls.
The substitute budget bill introduced by House Republicans yesterday (Sub. H. B. No. 59) contains an unbelievable change to Ohio law that make it increasingly difficult for Ohio’s students living on campus to prove they are residents of the state.
Students attending Ohio’s universities and living on campus are often issued a letter from the school that can be used as proof of residency for voting purposes. As schools like The Ohio State University, Ohio’s largest, move to require all freshman and sophomore students to live on campus, these letters become increasingly important for students wishing to participate in the political process.
A voting guide available on the Ohio Secretary of State’s website confirms that students can choose to use their college address when registering to vote and that letters from a university are acceptable proof of residency.
Language in yesterday’s budget bill would create a huge disincentive for schools to continue issuing these letters, by requiring the schools to change the residency status of a student who is issued one of these letters. This means schools would be forced to lower tuition rates for any student who pays out-of-state tuition but wants to vote in Ohio.
The provision of the bill reads like this:
(E) The rules of the chancellor for determining student residency shall grant residency status to a student to whom a state institution of higher education issues a letter or utility bill for use as proof that the student is a qualified elector in this state.
Nothing in division (E) of this section shall be used to grant residency to a student for any purpose other than for state subsidy and tuition surcharge purposes.
Since a large university relies on tuition to pay the bills, schools will likely stop issuing letters to students who live at the school but pay out-of-state tuition, adding one more hurdle to the voting process for Ohio’s students.
1,168 out-of-state students were enrolled in last year’s freshman class at OSU. And that’s just one class at one university. The National Center for Education Statistics lists 389 accredited institutions in Ohio.
Preventing college students from voting is clearly the intent of this budget provision, and it’s just one more in a long line of attempts by Ohio Republicans to disenfranchise their fellow Ohioans.
The House plans to bring the bill to a floor vote tomorrow (Thursday).