|Dr. Sharon M. Draper|
Miami University, Ohio
I had the privilege of hearing award-winning author and educator Dr. Sharon M. Draper speak at a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event at Miami University on Monday. She had a lot to say about the work of MLK, Jr. and the need for us all to continue working toward his dream. Most importantly, she told the college students in the audience, they need to do something.
She brought history alive, taking us back to the political activism of the 1960’s and MLK’s fight for the black man’s right to vote. What astounds her, she said, is that it is now 2012 and we still need to fight for the right to vote. The voting rights of college students are being disenfranchised and she urged everyone in the room to do something; to get involved; to make a difference and fight for what is right.
Put that way, I was stunned. I started doing some research online to see exactly what changes have been made to voting eligibility of college students in this Presidential election year. I had no trouble finding pages and pages of information. And all of it points to Republican parties trying to thwart the surge of votes by groups that have historically voted along Democratic lines. I was appalled. Not surprised, but appalled. A few startling facts I discovered:
· The new laws are requiring voters to present government-issued IDs, such as a passport or drivers’ license. However, many states will prohibit out-of-state drivers’ licenses; thus, excluding more students from being able to vote.
· 25% of African Americans lack a state photo identification, as do 15% of Latinos, but by comparison, only 8% of white voters. Other significant Democratic constituents -- the elderly of all races and college students -- would be disproportionately impacted.
In a December 27, 2011 New York Times (NYT) editorial, it is noted that:
· Seven states have already passed strict laws requiring a government-issued ID (like a driver's license or a passport) to vote, which many students don't have, and 27 others are considering such measures. Many of those laws have been interpreted as prohibiting out-of-state driver's licenses from being used for voting.
· Paying out-of-state tuition may exclude college students from being considered local residents even with that state driver's license, so they may be denied the right to vote on election day.
As someone who has served as an Ohio poll worker at half a dozen elections, I wondered what procedures had been put in place this year to stop college students from voting, and found very little. But, that may be because I was already aware of the steps necessary to register to vote and then what information must be presented on election day. Ohio law reads as follows:
What are the qualifications to register and to vote in Ohio?
You are qualified to register to vote in Ohio if you meet all the following requirements:
1. You are a citizen of the United States;
2. You will be at least 18 years old on or before the day of the next general election. (If you will be 18 on or before November 8, you may vote in the primary election to nominate candidates, but you cannot vote on issues or party central committees until you are 18);
3. You will be a resident of Ohio for at least 30 days immediately before the election in which you want to vote;
4. You are not incarcerated (in prison or jail) for a felony conviction under the laws of this state, another state, or the United States;
5. You have not been declared incompetent for voting purposes by a probate court; and
6. You have not been permanently disenfranchised for violating the election laws.
You are eligible to vote in elections held in your voting precinct 30 days after you are duly registered to vote in this state. You may request an absentee ballot during that 30 day period.
May a college student register and vote from his or her school address in Ohio?
It depends. A college student may vote using his or her Ohio school residence address if the student does not intend to return to a different permanent address. When a college student registers to vote from his or her school address, the school residence is considered to be the place to which the student's habitation is fixed and to which, whenever the student is absent, the student intends to return, and is considered by the student to be his or her permanent residence at the time of voting. Any other previous residence for voting purposes is no longer valid. It is illegal for a person to register and vote from two different addresses.
So, is Ohio making it tricky for college students? Yes, to a degree. To Dr. Draper’s point, if students don’t like the changes made to voting rights in Ohio or any other state, they need to do something about it. I would urge that they educate themselves and others to ensure that they are registered to vote somewhere before the voter registration deadlines pass for this election year. Whether they register to vote and cast their votes as residents in the county where they attend school, or obtain absentee ballots and vote back home, the important thing is that their voice and ballot count somewhere.
As people educate themselves they need to learn the voter registration deadline, what documents they must present for their voter eligibility, what identification is needed on the day of election, and how they can vote to make themselves heard. What some people may not know is that they can show up at the polling place and insist they get to vote, but unless all of the criteria is met correctly, their vote will not count when the votes are tabulated.
If nothing else, that is one fact I learned as a poll worker: if someone shows up at my precinct, but does not have the correct ID, or doesn’t appear in my poll book, or has identification that doesn’t match our information (different name or address), we still let them cast a provisional ballot, but it doesn’t count if it is determined that the voter voted in the wrong precinct.
I am doing my part here to educate those in Ohio. Voting guidelines, registration information, and absentee ballot requests can be found here: http://www.sos.state.oh.us/SOS/upload/publications/election/vig_2012.pdf
Wherever you are, whoever you are, educate yourself! Make sure your voice is heard!