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Lawmakers want all students to pay in-state tuition to be able to vote

College officials fear loss of millions from out-of-state tuition loss.

A Republican amendment to the state budget bill would force public colleges and universities to charge out-of-state students the resident tuition price if they issue proof of residence to vote in an election.

GOP lawmakers claim the provision intends to alleviate the financial burden on students. Democrats and voters rights advocates argue the provision is a move to make sure fewer young people, who tend to vote Democratic, can cast their ballot in battleground state Ohio.

House GOP spokesman Mike Dittoe said that’s a ridiculous accusation.

“We want people of all ages to go vote and this doesn’t have anything to do with prohibiting them from voting,” Dittoe said. “It does not in any way, shape or form repress or attempt to repress the vote.”

University officials said they did not request the change and were surprised to see it inserted into the 4,600-page budget bill, which passed the House last week and it now being vetted by the Senate.

Ohio election law includes utility bills in its list of accepted forms of identification at the polls, in addition to photo ID, military ID, a bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document showing the voter’s name and current address. Institutions often issue utility bills with balances of $0 or other documents to students to prove identification and their current Ohio address at the polls.

“If the university is doing that, providing a utility bill and using it as a means to go vote, it assumes they are an Ohio resident,” Dittoe said. “The university should extend in-state tuition rates to that student.”

Nick Worner of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said the provision intends to apply financial pressure to universities to keep students from voting.

“I don’t see how voting has to be involved in tuition at all,” Worner said. “They tend to be separate conversations and now they’re tied together. Like most bad bills or bad amendments, it’s not about what it claims to be about.”

The residency requirement for voting is 30 days, per Ohio law, while state universities require one year and students have to take additional steps to show they intend to make Ohio their permanent home.

The Inter-University Council of Ohio says its 13 member institutions would lose at least $100 million each year from the difference between in- and out-of-state tuition. The estimated loss at Miami University, where a little more than one-third of students are from outside Ohio, is up to $60 million — about 15 percent of its operating budget.

“We’ve already trimmed a lot of our expenses,” said university spokesperson Claire Wagner. “We’d have to make major moves if we were going to absorb that kind of cut.”

MU has allowed students to request a utility bill before the last two presidential elections through a website. Wagner said only about 500 students accessed the website to register for the November 2012 election.

Wagner said the proposed legislation puts colleges in a tough spot because they’ve been issuing bills and other statements at the direction of the secretary of state’s office. In 2008, the office — then run by Democrat Jennifer Brunner — directed all county boards of elections to accept college utility bills, regardless of time period or amount listed, because they verify the student lives at a particular address.

Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, said college students spend most of their year on campus and federal courts have held that students have a constitutional right to vote in their campus communities.

“I worry universities will stop providing these utility bills or letters and students will have a much harder time voting and many of them may not vote and may not participate,” Clyde said. “And to me, that is very disheartening.”

Voters age 18-29 account for about 17 percent of votes cast in the 2008 and 2012 elections and more than 60 percent of that age group voted for President Obama, according to exit poll data. College student voter registrations explained higher than possible registered voter rolls in Wood County, home to Bowling Green University.

Daniel Rajaiah, a University of Dayton student and president of the Ohio College Democrats, said the change would hurt all Ohio college students, regardless of party affiliation. He said lawmakers should encourage college students to put down roots in Ohio instead of fleeing the state with their degree and skills.

“These Republicans should be trying to listen to these young people instead trying to prevent them from voting,” Rajaiah said.

Sam Bain, state chairman of the Ohio College Republican Federation and Sinclair Community College student, said extending in-state tuition to new Ohio voters is only fair.

“They want to make it easier for students to vote here and at the same time they want to make more money off them,” Bain said. “That’s flat out wrong.”

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