Ohio House Republicans Sneak Student Voting Barrier into Massive Budget Bill

The following originally appeared on the College Vote Project Blog of the Fair Elections Legal Network, a longtime HeadCount partner. For more stories like this, visit www.campusvoteproject.org/blog.
Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives included potentially unconstitutional language in a substitute budget bill designed to make it more difficult for students attending Ohio colleges to vote in their college communities. The language would require any public college or university that issues a letter or utility bill to a student for voter ID purposes to charge that student in-state tuition. Current law allows public colleges to provide to any student a letter with the student’s name and current address that the student can then use as voter ID. Private colleges may issue zero-balance utility bills to students living in residence halls.

The proposed budget language would discourage colleges from issuing voter ID documents to students who moved to Ohio to attend college by threatening schools with the loss of revenue that would result from charging out-of-state students lower in-state tuition rates. Out-of-state students are often the most in need of such documents.

In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Symm v. United States that discrimination against college students seeking to vote in their college communities is a violation of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In Ohio, the definition of residency for voting purposes is intentionally distinct from the definition of residency for determining tuition. If the legislature passes this bill and the governor signs it into law, it is very likely to face a court challenge.

The House could vote on the bill as early as tomorrow. This is the proposed language from the substitute budget bill:

"(E) The rules of the chancellor for determining student residency shall grant residency status to a student to whom a state institution of higher education issues a letter or utility bill for use as proof that the student is a qualified elector in this state.

Nothing in division (E) of this section shall be used to grant residency to a student for any purpose other than for state subsidy and tuition surcharge purposes."