An amendment snuck into the budget bill passed by the Republican-controlled Ohio House on April 18 would force public universities to decide between charging lucrative out-of-state tuition rates or providing out-of-state students with documents required for voting in Ohio, raising concerns from Democrats that Republicans are attempting to limit voting opportunities in the state once again. The measure would force public universities to classify students living on campus as in-state if they receive utility bills or official letters that can be used for identification when voting in Ohio.
Out-of-state tuition rates are typically higher than in-state tuition rates, which means universities would be giving up potentially millions in revenue to provide out-of-state students with the proper documents.
For universities, the measure adds a financial incentive to hold on to the documents. For out-of-state students, that could mean a more difficult time getting the documents to vote in Ohio elections.
Students can vote in Ohio if they have lived in the state for at least 30 days, but voting requires proper identification and proof of residency. Utility bills and official letters qualify, but student identification cards do not.
Republicans have been quick to defend the measure, while Democrats have been quick to oppose it. For both sides, there’s a clear political motivation: In the 2012 elections, 63 percent of Ohio voters aged 18 to 29 supported Democratic President Barack Obama, while only 35 percent supported Republican Mitt Romney, according to exit poll data.
Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder justified the measure to the Toledo Blade: “The real issue for local areas in particular [is], what happens when somebody from New York City registers to vote. How do they vote on a school levy? How do they vote on a sheriff’s race? To me, there is a significant question, particularly the levies, as to what having people who don’t have to pay for them would do in terms of voting on those things.”
The comments prompted a response from Ohio Democrats, particularly attorney general candidate David Pepper, a Greater Cincinnati native.
“It’s startling to see one of Ohio’s leaders voicing such a blatantly unconstitutional justification for this cynical law,” Pepper said in a statement.