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    Ohio Voter Suppression Steamroller

    With college students on Spring Break, the Ohio House of Representatives fired up its steamroller of suppression yesterday and passed a highly restrictive photo ID bill, only one day after the first hearing on the proposal. Daniel Tokaji, a noted voting rights expert and law professor at The Ohio State University, testified that the bill (HB 159, if you want to follow along) will make it more difficult for eligible citizens to vote: “Sadly, this appears to be its only real purpose. Its passage would be yet another great embarrassment for our state.”

    Awesome move, Ohio.

    For a little background, current Ohio law requires voters to present a photo ID or current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government document (including from your college or university) with your name and address when you go to the polls. Under HB 159 only state-issued photo ID (driver’s license or state ID), a military ID or U.S. passport will be accepted. None of that other stuff, which is too bad because a lot more people have the other stuff.

    Take Genna Schwartz, a sophomore at OSU who is from Arlington, Virginia. She spends most of the year in Columbus and is affected by the decisions made by my elected representatives there, so she is a registered Ohio voter. (She is also a volunteer with OSU Votes, the student-lead voter registration organization, and Rock the Vote.) She testified:

    One of the issues I encountered when registering students and making sure voters have the information they need to cast a ballot is the question of acceptable forms of identification at the polls. It was a question I personally faced. As a student with an out-of-state driver’s license, I was able to prove my identity and address with a utility bill.

    Not anymore, apparently. At OSU alone there are over 11,000 out-of-state students. Thousands more at other colleges and universities across the Buckeye State.

    Rock the Vote, the OSU Undergraduate Student Government, and OSU Votes wrote a letter in opposition to the bill. We said stuff like this:

    The cost of implementing this new, unduly restrictive law is too high. First, it will serve to disenfranchise currently registered voters, an unacceptable result of a proposed solution purportedly aimed at extremely rare cases of voter impersonation. Those who would be disenfranchised include tens of thousands of college students from out-of-state who who live and participate in civic life in Ohio and are legally registered to vote here. Second, at a time when there is an $8 billion budget shortfall in Ohio, a new photo ID program would cost millions of dollars to implement. The law would require taxpayers to provide “free” identification to those who do not have one (which is likely to include hundreds of thousands of voters) and fund substantial voter outreach and public education campaigns about the new regulations.

    That’s right: at a time when budget cuts are forcing teacher layoffs and elimination of student aid, the Ohio legislature wants to spend millions of dollars to create an unnecessary voter suppression, er, ID program. It is almost like they don’t want some people voting. Hmmm.

    As Professor Tokaji said in his testimony, passage of this bill would restore Ohio’s “unfortunate reputation as the nation’s capital of vote suppression.” Ugh.

    The bill will move over to the state Senate for consideration. Join the fight to stop voter suppression here.

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    Thomas Bates
    Bio: Thomas is Rock the Vote's Vice President of Civic Engagement.
    Email the author at: blog(at)rockthevote.com

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