More than 16,000 out-of-state students at Ohio State might soon face new barriers to voting if a recent amendment to the state transportation budget is kept in the final bill.
The bill, called House Bill 53 or the Transportation Budget, was introduced by Republicans in the Ohio Senate.
The amendments require residents of other states to obtain an Ohio driver’s license and surrender their old license within 30 days of registering to be able to vote for issues on the Ohio ballot. Additionally, it requires them to get an Ohio registration for their vehicle and pay associated fees to reregister the vehicles and obtain new licenses.
It can cost more than $75 per year to obtain an Ohio driver’s license and register a vehicle, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
Current state law allows out-of-state students to keep their home license and registration while maintaining a residency in Ohio and voting in elections in Ohio.
The bill was passed by the Ohio Senate 33-0 on Wednesday, and by the Ohio House 82-13 on Thursday, according to the Ohio Legislature website. It will next go to Ohio Gov. John Kasich for approval.
The governor has the power of line item veto, or the ability to veto specific portions of acts and bills.
The governor must write a veto message that explains the reasons for vetoing certain items.
Opponents of the act are holding out hope that this portion of the bill would be vetoed by Kasich.
Many Democrats in the General Assembly have spoken out against the provision.
“It will punish students for exercising their most fundamental right,” Democratic Rep. Kathleen Clyde of Ohio’s 75th House District said in a press release from the League of Women Voters.
Senate Republicans have said the amendment is focused on Ohio residency and has little to do with voting.
However, several out-of-state students on campus have reservations about the legislation.
“It seems like a hassle,” said Katherine Conroy, a first-year in psychology and women’s gender and sexuality studies. She added that she would stay registered to vote in her home state of Texas rather than register in Ohio.
OSU College Republicans, College Democrats, Multi-Partisan Coalition and Undergraduate Student Government released a joint statement last week condemning the provision.
“Our organization spent a significant chunk of 2014 learning firsthand how difficult it can be to register and educate student voters on campus, so the fact that the provision in question burdens students with an additional financial and administrative requirement is especially disappointing,” the Multi-Partisan Coalition said in an emailed statement.
The leaders of each group signed an open letter urging members of the Ohio General Assembly to vote against the amendment.
“Here at Ohio State, we work to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students, especially those nearly 10,000 students who travel far from home seeking an education,” the letter, which was published last Tuesday, said.
“We also strive to live by our (university’s) motto, disciplina (in) civitatem, or ‘education through citizenship.’ Our coalition embraces that idea in our work to empower students to be politically engaged. The implications of amendments 4503.111 and 4507.213 inhibit our ability to succeed in those three goals by creating barriers for out of state students who will reside in Ohio during their time at Ohio State.”
Several hours later, however, the College Republicans released another statement in which they retracted their original opposition to the amendment.
In this retraction, the organization said in a statement published on its Facebook page that it had become better informed about the amendment, and said that the opposition was “disingenuous and misleading.” They added that they now “endorse the bill in its entirety.”
“Upon further consideration, the College Republicans at The Ohio State University would like to retract its previously stated concerns with regard to House Bill 53, the Ohio Transportation Budget,” the statement said. “At least 44 states have similar laws for obtaining driver’s licenses, and many of these states also consider voter registration to be a declaration of residency, as does Ohio.”
The other signatories have maintained their original stance on the provision.
“It is disappointing to see that state GOP officials are apparently willing to silence their own student counterparts,” a representative of the Multi-Partisan Coalition said in an email when asked about the College Republicans withdrawing their support from the letter.
The other student groups did not immediately respond to requests for comment.