A new effort on voter suppression has been seen in recent months: attacks on student voting by making it harder to determine residency for voting purposes. Proposed legislation in Ohio, New Hampshire, and Indiana that would limit student voting rights through amended residency standards has met varied results. At the center of the issue is the definition of residency for voter registration purposes. It seems straightforward that a person who lives in a state and considers that place her residence should be able to register to vote there. The reality, however, can be more complicated. Most states have residency standards for voting that often differ from residency for other purposes within the state, such as paying taxes or registering a motor vehicle. Whatever residency standards exist for these latter obligations, most states allow students, people working in temporary jobs, and active duty military stationed in the state to vote if they have a physical presence in the state, a place they call home, in which they have a present intent to stay. Some states, however, in an effort to discourage young voters, are trying to change these generally accepted standards.
In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in Symm v. United States, students’ rights to register to vote at their previous home address or at their college address. Essentially, the law cannot constitutionally add burdens to voter registration or voting simply because someone is a student.
This anti-student voter effort is not new and the motives are more than suspect. The recent attacks on the residency of students in several states are evidence this fight against students is evolving and must be addressed.
In late March, state senators in Ohio added a last-minute provision to the state’s 522-page transportation budget bill which would have required those registering to vote in Ohio to obtain a state driver’s license and vehicle registration within 30 days of their voter registration. Though on its face it seems reasonable that those living and driving in the state should be required to obtain vehicle registration and licenses in Ohio, this amendment mandated a link between voter registration addresses and motor vehicle addresses in a way few other states do. This provision would have affected several other categories of voters, including Ohio residents who spend the winters at a second home and military personnel stationed in the state, but the real impact would be on the more than 116,000 out-of-state students attending college in the Buckeye State.