Listen to Keith Faber, the Senate president, and the last-minute amendment to the state transportation bill linking voter registration to motor vehicle laws merely brings Ohio in line with as many as 46 other states with similar requirements. “This doesn’t have anything to do with elections,” Faber said as the bill was speeding to passage this week.
In reality, both claims are big exaggerations intended to mask how the 30-day license and vehicle registration requirement would affect a group that Republicans have tried to target in the past: students attending Ohio colleges and universities from out of state. There are more than 100,000 such students, who, once in Ohio, easily meet the 30-day residency requirement for voter registration. Many vote for Democrats.
Requiring out-of-state-students (who still would pay out-of-state tuition) to pay $75 or more for new documents — or be fined up to $150 — would be a major discouragement to taking the trouble to register to vote in the first place.
What has fueled Democratic suspicions is that Republican lawmakers last year moved to require public colleges and universities to give students cheaper in-state tuition rates if the institutions helped students to vote by providing documents showing they resided in Ohio. Thankfully, that effort at leaving universities little choice but to withhold the documents collapsed at the Statehouse.
Most states do require drivers eventually to get an in-state license and vehicle registration. But very few have gone as far as Republicans want Ohio to go — by including voter registration as the trigger. According to the Fair Election Legal Network, just four states have criminal penalties for failing to get a driver’s license and in-state vehicle registration.
One of them (Arizona) specifically exempts out-of-state students. The others (Florida, Kansas and Massachusetts) give time frames of, respectively, six months, 90 days and none at all.
Gov. John Kasich should use his line-item veto on this provision. If he does not, what almost certainly lies ahead is yet another federal lawsuit over how Ohio votes, continuing a dismaying history of resolving questions of access to the ballot through litigation rather than bipartisan compromise.
Democrats already are pointing to the voter registration language in the transportation bill as intimidating to students, and a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. Students who meet Ohio’s 30-day residency requirement for registering to vote should not be saddled with difficult and, for them, expensive hoops through which they must jump after registering, or face criminal penalties. Hard to miss that such language represents a significant barrier to voting.
Link to original artilcle from Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com