State Budget Bill Includes Restrictions on Student Voters

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As the state budget heads toward the Republican-led Senate, a move to tie in-state tuition to in-state voting rights has stirred debate throughout Ohio.

The way it stands now, if someone is 18 or older and has established residency in Ohio for 30 days prior to Election Day, they may register to vote by providing some sort of government identification document. Public universities often give out-of-state students a dormitory utility bill or the like to allow legal registration.

The state budget bill would make it so that universities that offer such documentation would need to charge those out-of-state students the in-state tuition rate.

More than 20,000 of Ohio's 222,000 public students come from out of state. As such, the GOP's budgetary move would cost public universities about $272 million in loss of tuition.

Of course, this isn't about voter suppression, GOP legislators say. State Rep. Ron Amstutz, a Wooster Republican, notes that this is just about prodding a little conversation along.

“The amendment has the purpose of getting a discussion going on sort of the mismatch that exists in Ohio, where we have one requirement for when a student becomes in-state for tuition purposes and another requirement for voting,” Amstutz told The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Truth be told, however, students typically and overwhelmingly vote Democratic. Though the number of out-of-state students falls well below the 166,000 vote threshold earned by President Barack Obama in 2012, the state budget item would effectively disenfranchise a large group of current voters and likely alienate future voters.

Bruce Johnson, former Ohio lieutenant governor and current president of the Inter-University Council, the lobbying group for Ohio’s public universities, says that universities won't back down from the standards of practice: “We’re not going to stop suggesting to students that wherever they reside, they can exercise their right to vote in that location.”

The budget bill has not yet been approved by the Statehouse, and Gov. John Kasich has not commented publicly on this specific provision. In the governor's own budget proposal, this measure was not included.

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