Republicans in the Ohio state legislature are promoting an amendment to a state budget bill that would punish public universities that provide students with the necessary materials to register to vote. According to Talking Points Memo, the legislators say that they are trying to resolve discrepancies between residency requirements for in-state tuition and voter registration. Democrats accuse the Republicans of attempting to disenfranchise another traditionally Democratic constituency in an important swing state.
“What the bill would do is penalize public universities for providing their students with the documents they need to vote,” said Ohio University professor and election law expert Daniel Tokaji to TPM. “It’s a transparent effort at vote suppression — about the most blatant and shameful we’ve seen in this state, which is saying quite a lot.”
To vote in Ohio elections, a person must be a resident of the state for at least 30 days prior to the election in which they intend to vote. To register to vote, they must present a photo ID, a current utility bill, bank statement, current government check or other government document (besides voter registration acknowledgment) that bears their name and address.
Students living in on-campus housing may not have some of the above items, so universities in Ohio typically supply necessary documents to students wishing to register to vote.
However, for students to qualify for in-state tuition at public universities in the state, they must have attended an Ohio school or have a parent or spouse who lives in the state prior to enrollment.
Republicans say this is a double standard, and the new law would force colleges and universities to charge in-state tuition to students it helps to vote.
“The amendment has the purpose of getting a discussion going on sort of the mismatch that exists in Ohio, where we have one requirement for when a student becomes in-state for tuition purposes and another requirement for voting,” Republican state Rep. Ron Amstutz told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Losing out-of-state tuition would cost state colleges and universities an estimated $272 million. The institutions say they intend to continue to distribute the materials, however.
Democratic Ohio Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney told the Enquirer that Republicans’ real intent is to nullify an important constituency which helped President Barack Obama carry Ohio in the 2008 election against former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).
“They’re somehow trying to thwart the strategy that worked to elect President Obama,” he told the newspaper.
Tokaji warned that the strategy could backfire.
“The way that they’ve written this bill makes it clear that its only purpose is to suppress student voting,” he told TPM. “What I’d say to the Republican Party is this is not only a shameful strategy, but it’s a stupid strategy because, you know, the Republican Party already has a signifcant problem with young voters. They’re on the verge of losing a generation of voters. Their path to victory is not to suppress the student vote, but to win the student vote.”
Ohio Republicans and the state’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted ran afoul of the Department of Justice in 2012 when they tried to do away with early voting in the November election. Early voting has historically been an important resource for hourly workers and other people who can’t get to the polls on Election Day.
By eliminating voting, Husted and the Republicans hoped to dilute the African-American vote, an intention made explicit when Franklin County, Ohio Republican Party Chairperson Doug Priesse told the Columbus Dispatch, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine. Let’s be fair and reasonable.”
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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