A provision added to Ohio's new transportation bill by Republican lawmakers would have made it more difficult --- and expensive --- for out-of-state students to vote in the Buckeye State. The scheme would have required anybody who registers to vote there to obtain an Ohio driver's license and register their car in the state (at a cost of at least $75) within 30 days, or risk losing their right to drive.
That provision, voting rights advocates warned, was likely to deter out-of-state students at Ohio colleges and universities from registering to vote there, despite a long-held U.S. Supreme Court determination that students may register to vote where they attend school.
The good news on this issue is that while Ohio's Republican Gov. John Kasich signed the transportation bill last week, he used a line-item veto to remove the offending provision. But more than a bit of potential confusion --- and the ability to deter student voters from exercising their right --- still looms...
The administrative hurdles --- not to mention the $75 or more --- needed to get the documents could have dissuaded many of the state's more than 115,000 out-of-state students from registering and voting in Ohio, as is their right. Students are disproportionately Democratic, but snow birds, members of the military and others could also have been affected.
"Thanks to the work of my Democratic colleagues, the governor, voting advocates and students around this state, cooler heads have prevailed and the controversial restriction that would have made it harder for students to vote has been removed from this bill," said state Rep. Alicia Reece, the top Democrat on the transportation committee, and a leading Ohio voting rights advocate.
But, while the removal of this covert "poll tax" would seem to be a good thing, there still remains a bit of murkiness in the state's Administrative Code and another provision of the transportation bill which wasn't vetoed that Republicans could choose to press, if they were so inclined.
It's somewhat confusing (just try to make sense of this report is you don't believe me), but it appears that existing Administrative Code already requires residents obtain an Ohio driver's license and register their car in the state (if they wish to drive) once they become a resident. But the Code had not specified a date by which the resident must update their drivers license and automobile registration. A provision in the new transportation bill that was not vetoed by Kasich requires that those activities be done within 30 days of becoming a resident.
At the same time, one may register to vote in Ohio only if they plan to "be a resident of Ohio for at least 30 days" prior to the election.
But, if by registering to vote one declares their residency in Ohio, and if by declaring residency one must now register their car and get an Ohio drivers license in 30 days, well, if Republicans decided to press that issue, it could also result in out-of-state students being dissuaded from registering to vote for fear of losing their right to drive while in school.
Making matters even more confusing still, The Columbus Dispatch reports that "Ohio law honors the driver's licenses and vehicle registrations of out-of-state college students and other temporary residents if they intend to return to their home states or locate elsewhere outside the state."
According to the Dispatch:
"Residency is residency, and although the veto removed it from the statute, the (Ohio) Administrative Code considers that a trigger for residency and therefore covers driver's license rules as enforced by the (Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles)," said John Fortney, spokesman for the Senate GOP.
Mike Brickner, senior policy director for the ACLU of Ohio, said, "Traditionally, residency for voter registration and other purposes like driving have been very different, and this veto maintains that distinction."
Because of such confusion, the Ohio Democratic Party has asked for a clarification of where the law stands now.
At the moment, most Ohio Dems, as well as voting rights advocates, seem to be celebrating Kasich's veto, and MSNBC's Roth reports that Republican "Secretary of State Jon Husted's office has said there'll be no change to how elections are administered in the state."
But a lot can happen between now and the exceedingly partisan-charged atmosphere of a Presidential election, particular in Ohio. The Dispatch reports that "Senate Republicans always said the move was about residency - not voting." But if you believe that, you must have been living on another planet since about 2004 or so.
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)