Coming Soon to a Ohio Courthouse? Bill Requiring Student Voters to Get Ohio Licenses

Ohio_Statehouse_columbus.jpg

[Image courtesy of wikimedia]

In case you missed it, I wrote back in late 2012 about a court case overturning a New Hampshire law requiring out-of-state student voters to register their cars in the state as proof of residency.

They obviously missed it in Columbus, where Ohio GOP Senators have inserted a provision in the state transportation funding bill that would require out of state student voters registering in the Buckeye State to get a Ohio license or risk having their out-of-state license suspended. The Columbus Dispatch has more:

Dismissing Democrats’ cries of voter suppression, majority legislative Republicans are poised to require those who register to vote in Ohio to also obtain state driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations.

The measure is part of the state transportation budget approved Tuesday by a House-Senate conference committee and headed to possible floor votes in each chamber Wednesday.

Democrats tried to remove the provision, saying it constitutes a “poll tax” on out-of-state college students, who would have to spend $75 or more on license and registration fees within 30 days of registering to vote.

Rep. Alicia Reece, D-Cincinnati, voted against the transportation budget on Tuesday, she said, because her caucus had a host of concerns about the provision.

Current law has allowed people to claim Ohio residency and vote while retaining their out-of-state licenses and registrations because the law doesn’t specify a deadline for new residents to obtain Ohio documentation.

Supporters of the bill say it’s about cleaning up residency requirements, not suppressing votes by students:

Republicans, including Secretary of State Jon Husted, said the move is about fulfilling the responsibilities of becoming an Ohio resident — not a barrier to voting …

Husted spoke out Tuesday against what he called “hysteria,” saying Democrats’ objections were misleading and reckless.

“It is irresponsible for anyone to deceive the public into believing it is hard to vote in Ohio,” he said. “If the motivation (of the measure) was to impact voting, it missed its target.”

More than 116,000 out-of-state students, including 14,000 at Ohio State University, attend Ohio’s public and private colleges and universities.

Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, pointed out in a statement that Ohio is one of only six states that set no deadline for new residents to obtain an in-state driver’s license. “It’s a practical, common-sense policy, and we’re all getting pretty tired of the bogus voter-suppression scare tactics,” he said.

If the law does get enacted, you can bet it will draw a lawsuit:

Critics say the legislation would discourage young adults from registering to vote by requiring them to pay state motor-vehicle fees.

State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, said Tuesday that the budget language potentially violates the federal Voting Rights Act, and invites a lawsuit, because it constitutes “intimidation and harassment” of would-be voters …

Leah Lacure, a senior from Rochester, N.Y., and student-body vice president at Ohio State, objects to the changes, saying they would impose “bureaucratic hoops and unnecessary costs” and make voting burdensome.

Key questions in any such lawsuit will be the same ones I asked about the New Hampshire law: how many non-student voters don’t have cars registered in the state or an in-state drivers’ license, and is the percentage comparable to the student population? And if the law applies to all voters, what will the state do to enforce the law against all voters without in-state licenses? Additionally, what effect could this controversy have on the Secretary’s efforts to push online voter registration – which requires the use of DMV data to succeed?

These efforts, and the controversies they generate, are the result of our confusing and imprecise rules for determining residency for various purposes (voting, driving, taxes, tuition etc.) in the United States. Whatever the motivation behind this Ohio push, the fact that it will have an impact on voting – however large or small – is going to draw litigation.

Ohio never fails to be interesting – as always, stay tuned …

8 Comments on "Coming Soon to a Ohio Courthouse? Bill Requiring Student Voters to Get Ohio Licenses"

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