COLUMBUS — A proposed requirement that public colleges and universities charge in-state tuition rates to students they help to establish Ohio residency for voting purposes is “too clever by half,” the League of Women Voters charged Tuesday.
The league joined with legislative Democrats and the nonpartisan Ohio Campus Compact to argue that an amendment added at the last-minute to the House-passed budget could discourage schools from giving on-campus students utility bills or letters that could be used as voter identification at the polls.
“It doesn’t even pass the straight-face test. …,” said Peg Rosenfeld, League elections specialist. “This is absolutely the wrong thing to do. We want to encourage students to vote. …It is unconscionable.”
The provision was added just before the Republican-controlled House sent its $62 billion, two-year budget plan to the Senate nearly two weeks ago.
Higher education institutions fear the move could collectively cost them hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced tuition revenue, particularly if students see such documentation as their avenue to lower tuition bills.
The amendment does not address what would happen to a similar student who lives in off-campus housing and has his own utility bill bearing his address that he can use to register and vote. Could that student argue he should also receive lower in-state tuition?
Democrats charge the amendment is part of a national attempt by Republicans to restrict voting by constituencies that turned out in large numbers for President Obama in the last two presidential elections.
Students can vote in Ohio if they have lived here at least 30 days, but they still need some form of voter identification under state law.
A student identification card doesn’t qualify. A utility bill or official letter from the school does.
“It really holds the university [to] having to make decisions about voter rights,” said Richard Kinsley, executive director of Ohio Campus Compact, a nonpartisan, nonprofit coalition of college and university presidents that encourages civic involvement of students.
“If I’m going to lose out-of-state tuition, that puts the university in a bind to decide, ‘Do I honor the rights of the student to register to vote or do I have to pay attention to the bottom-line budget?’ ” he said. “If I lose all those dollars, then tuition goes up for everyone.”
House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina) defended the amendment.
“The real issue for local areas in particular [is], what happens when somebody from New York City registers to vote,” he said. “How do they vote on a school levy? How do they vote on a sheriff’s race …? To me, there is a significant question, particularly the levies, as to what having people who don’t have to pay for them would do in terms of voting on those things.”
When asked about the potential dollar impact on universities that experienced cuts in state funding in the last budget, Mr. Batchelder said, “That’s a rather gigantic amount of money. I don’t know how to respond to it.”
UT has 1,112 out-of-state, noninternational students, according to university spokesman Meghan Cunningham. There are 519 noninternational out-of-state graduate students.
The university charges $4,527 per semester, or $9,054 a year, for in-state tuition and $9,087 per semester, or $18,174 a year, in out-of-state tuition. That’s a difference of $9,120 per year that the university could lose per student who requested voting-related documentation.
In the 2012 presidential election, the university did a mass-mailing of such letters to all residents of student housing, regardless of whether they used them or whether the students were already Ohio residents.
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