The Crafty Way to Disenfranchise Thousands of Ohio College Students
By: Martin Kich, President, Wright State University-AAUP
Right before the Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 59, the state budget bill, they slipped in a little-noticed provision that could have the effect of disenfranchising thousands of college students.
Currently in Ohio, college students can provide a letter from their school to establish that they have residency and are eligible to vote, and schools have readily provided such letters in an effort to encourage voter participation among their students.
But this late amendment to the budget bill stipulates that if a school now provides an out-of-state student with such a letter, the school must then charge that student the in-state tuition rate. The in-state tuition rate is currently $15,500 less than the out-of-state rate at Ohio State.
In other words, universities will no longer provide such identification to their students if it means losing out on the extra tuition dollars, which will result in disenfranchising those students from voting in Ohio.
Out-of-state students will have to provide other proof of residence (many of the options are less readily available to dorm students, who do not individually pay utility bills or may not have Ohio drivers licenses) or vote by absentee ballots in their home states.
GOP lawmakers have protested that these are simply "common sense" tweaks to existing laws. But this "tweak" is hypocritical.
As state support for the public colleges and universities has dropped to about 20 percent of the cost to educate in-state students, those institutions have increasingly engaged in very aggressive recruiting of out-of-state students. Not only are those students paying higher tuitions that have allowed the lower in-state tuitions to be sustained, but they are also contributing significantly to the state's overall economy.
For the 2012-2013 academic year, there are more than 32,000 out-of-state students at Ohio's public universities the great majority of whom are concentrated in the state's largest cities, which are the most Democratic parts of the state.
And if 32,000 votes seems insignificant in a state with a population of more than 11,000,000, bear in mind that President Obama carried Ohio by just 166,272 votes; and the affected college students represent about 20 percent of that margin.
Finally, if this sort of political calculation seems beneath any serious policymaker, just take a close look at the gerrymandered districts that resulted from the 2010 redistricting. Those districts were cut in ways that sometimes split not just neighborhoods but, in some instances, city blocks.