If you can’t beat them, make it so they can’t play to begin with. That’s been the mentality of the Ohio Republican Party time and time again, and the latest budget bill from the Republican-controlled Ohio House continues the trend.
During last-minute voting, Ohio House Republicans sneaked in an amendment to the Ohio House budget bill that requires public universities to classify students as “in-state” if the students are given documents required for voting. For universities, it means deciding between charging for out-of-state tuition rates, which are higher than in-state tuition rates, and providing documents to students that are required for voting. For out-of-state students, it likely means a more difficult time voting in Ohio.
Of course, Republicans’ public reasons for this measure appear level-headed. Republicans say that they just want to reduce tuition costs and prevent out-of-state students from voting on local issues that they know little about.
But there’s a very clear political motivation for Republicans supporting a measure like this one: College-aged voters tend to support Democrats. In 2012, young voters were particularly highlighted by media outlets as key supporters of President Barack Obama, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and other Democrats around the nation.
In other words, by making it harder for young voters to come out to vote, Ohio Republicans are reducing the chances of another 2012 — all without changing their increasingly unpopular stances on same-sex marriage, gun control, funding for Planned Parenthood, the Medicaid expansion and immigration reform.
This is sadly becoming a recurring trend for Ohio Republicans.
Since 2011, Republican legislators have made attempts to reduce early voting hours and make it generally more difficult to vote. Republicans successfully passed legislation in 2011 that significantly reduced early voting hours, but the legislation was mostly repealed in 2012 after Democrats threatened the laws with referendum efforts and legal challenges.
In 2012, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted invoked uniform voting hours, which effectively eliminated most weekend voting, and placed the burden of proper identification on voters instead of poll workers, which made verifying provisional ballots more difficult and less likely.
For those measures, Republicans touted their reasonable-sounding explanations. They claimed too much early voting can be expensive for already-strained county budgets, uniform rules make voting fairer across the state and stricter voting rules prevent voter fraud.
But one day Doug Preisse, close adviser to Gov. John Kasich and chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party, was a little too honest in an email to 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.”
Normally, Republicans at least try to mask racist voter suppression policies by saying “urban voters.” Almost everyone knows the term means “minorities,” but the wordplay makes it difficult to point out any racism. Preisse did Democrats a favor by staying blunt, but for his sake he probably revealed more than intended.
More telling than Preisse’s comment were follow-up comments from Ohio Republicans, who didn’t deny the reasoning. Matt Borges, who has since been promoted from executive director to chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, told Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer that Preisse didn’t think the email was on the record; instead, the email was supposed to be background.
As CityBeat pointed out back then, that response doesn’t deny the racism; it simply says the racism isn’t supposed to be public.
The controversy surrounding Preisse’s comments provides an important lesson for the Ohio House budget bill’s voting amendment: While Republicans may tout reasonable-sounding explanations for voter suppression laws, there are underlying political motivations that are ultimately the true reasons for such legislation. Just like Republicans attempted to suppress black — sorry, “urban” — voters that overwhelmingly vote Democrat, they are now trying to suppress young voters that overwhelmingly vote Democrat.
Unfortunately for Democrats, it’s now up to the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate and Kasich to reject the measure and make the budget bill about budgeting instead of voting rights.
Then again, Kasich and many Republican legislators are up for re-election in 2014. If the bill proceeds, it’s possible an ensuing referendum effort could simultaneously reject the measure and rally young voters against Republicans. For Ohio Republicans interested in lifelong political careers, that’s at least worth considering.