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.
Pepper’s statement went on to cite three U.S. Supreme Court cases to support his argument: Kramer v. Union Free School District No. 15 from 1969, Carrington v. Rash from 1965 and Dunn v. Blumstein from 1972.
In Kramer v. Union Free School District No. 15, the court argued any laws that discriminate against certain types of voters must endure strict judicial scrutiny because “any unjustified discrimination in determining who may participate in political affairs or in the selection of public officials undermines the legitimacy of representative government.” The ruling struck down a New York statute that said those participating in school board elections must be property owners, the spouses of property owners, lessors or a parent or guardian of a child in the school district.
Pepper’s statement claims the ruling invalidates Batchelder’s argument: “The Court rejected the state’s argument (identical to the Speaker’s) that only those two groups had a primary interest in such elections.”
In Carrington v. Rash, the Supreme Court ruled states may not limit voting based on how someone may vote: “‘Fencing out’ from the franchise a sector of the population because of the way they may vote is constitutionally impermissible. ‘[T]he exercise of rights so vital to the maintenance of democratic institutions’ ... cannot constitutionally be obliterated because of a fear of the political views of a particular group of bona fide residents.”
Similarly, Dunn v. Blumstein struck down Tennessee’s one-year residency requirements for voting in a ruling that said residents recently coming from other states can’t be barred from voting: “[T]he fact that newly arrived [Tennesseeans] may have a more national outlook than long-time residents, or even may retain a viewpoint characteristic of the region from which they have come, is a constitutionally impermissible reason for depriving them of their chance to influence the electoral vote of their new home State.”
The Ohio House’s budget bill amendment is only one of many
attempts from Ohio Republicans to limit voting opportunities in the
state since 2011.
In 2011, the Republican-controlled legislature and
Gov. John Kasich approved two laws that reduced early voting hours.
Democrats and third-party groups threatened to bring the legislation to
referendum, but the Republican-controlled legislature and Kasich
repealed most of the measures and restored expanded early voting in Ohio
before the referendum came to a vote. A federal court also
restored early voting for all Ohioans for the three days prior to Election Day, which the previous repeals had only brought back for military voters.
In 2012, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, invoked uniform early voting hours, effectively eliminating most weekend voting, and made last-minute changes that placed the burden of proper identification on voters instead of poll workers, which Democrats argued made verifying provisional ballots more difficult.
When asked to justify some of the measures, Doug Preisse, close adviser to Kasich and chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party, wrote 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.”
The race-based reasoning prompted a harsh response from Democrats, who claimed Republicans were trying to suppress minority voters who tend to vote for Democrats.
Beyond voting rights, the Ohio House budget bill defunds Planned Parenthood and forgoes the Medicaid expansion (“The Chastity Bunch,” issue of April 24).
The budget bill still has to be approved by the Ohio Senate and Kasich to become law.