Ohio’s Republican-controlled Senate passed a transportation budget Wednesday containing a controversial provision that critics say could dissuade college students from voting. The amendment to the budget, which was added at the last minute by a Senate committee, would require out-of-state students who register to vote from their campus address to register their cars in Ohio within 30 days and obtain state driver’s licenses. Completing both of those steps would cost over $75. If the more than 116,000 out-of-state students who attend Ohio’s public and private colleges and universities fail to do so, their out-of-state licenses would become invalid and they could face misdemeanor charges. Current law has allowed new Ohioans to claim residency and vote while keeping their out-of-state licenses and registrations because the state hasn’t specified a deadline for obtaining documentation.
Republicans supporting the measure said that Ohio is among only a handful of states that don’t have a deadline for new residents to register cars and obtain driver’s licenses in the state. However, tying the requirement to voting appears to be a unique move. Democrats have call the legislation a “poll tax” that would intimidate and disenfranchise students. Republicans, on the other hand, say it is a nonpartisan issue of residency requirements.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) insisted Tuesday that the provision wouldn’t be a burden on would-be student voters. “By registering to vote, you are declaring you are a resident,” Husted said. “We hope they become Ohioans and we hope they want to vote here.”
State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D), who has been one of the strongest voices against the amendment, said it would deter students from voting. “There’s reports that over 110,000 Ohio students could be impacted by this provision,” Clyde said. “We’re talking about a lot of people, a lot of people’s rights impacted … I hate to see this trip up our young voters, our first-time voters, people that we want to welcome to Ohio, not put burdens up in front of them or punishing them for participating in their democracy in their communities where they’re going to school.”