Changes in Ohio voting laws mean new challenges for college and university students
Election Day is less than a month away and, for some college students, this trip to the polls may involve some extra work.
Before, voters could bring another form of identification, such as their birth certificate, social security card, utility bill or bank statement, to vote in person. These forms no longer suffice.
Now, any voters who would like to vote in person must bring an Ohio driver's license or a state-issued ID, a U.S. passport, or a military ID with them to the polls. Voting rights activists are concerned this poses challenges for out-of-state college students who may not have an Ohio driver’s license.
“House Bill 458 flat out makes it harder for our out-of-state students to vote in Ohio, specifically in person,” said Corie Steinke, the assistant director for civic engagement and leadership programs at the University of Akron.
Students with an out-of-state driver's license can obtain an Ohio photo ID from a Bureau of Motor Vehicles free of charge. However, the ID will invalidate their out-of-state license, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles confirmed.
Nazek Hapasha, the policy affairs manager for the League of Women Voters of Ohio, pointed out that many students, especially college freshman, are not permitted to have a car on campus — which makes it harder for them to get to the BMV to obtain an Ohio ID.
"If a student wants to vote on Election Day, securing a driver's license or a photo ID is a cumbersome process for many of them," Hapasha said.
The new law can create even more misunderstanding for young voters who are less likely to vote anyway, she said.
Tuft University's Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found only 21.6% of eligible voters between ages 18 and 29 in Ohio voted in 2022.
"A lot of education, generally speaking, not just around [House Bill] 458, but just generally speaking, a lot of education is required around voting that is really lacking," Hapasha said.
For out-of-state students who want to vote in Ohio, The League of Women Voters recommends voting by mail, which only requires providing the last four digits of your social security number. For students at Kent State University, this poses another challenge because the nearest post office to campus is a mile and a half away, as the on-campus post office is now closed.
Universities and voting advocates in Northeast Ohio have been trying to get the word out to students about the new requirements because of the challenges students are facing.
Kent State Votes, a student-run organization, hosted the Flashes Vote Festival in October to get the word out to their peers and help them register to vote. The League of Women Voters of Kent also stepped up to educate students on the law and helped register students on campus prior to this year's October 10 registration deadline.
Craig Berger, the associate director for community engaged learning at Kent State, said these organizations have helped register a record number of students this fall.
“Our Kent State Votes coalition, with significant help from the League of Women Voters, registered 186 people through our efforts the past few weeks ... which is about five times more than what we typically see in non-presidential and non-midterm elections,” Berger said.
Steinke at the University of Akron said her department has also played a big role in helping students on campus navigate the new requirements.
“[My office] has taken the responsibility to make sure students from all parts of the country have as much information to vote and as many options to follow through with voting as possible,” Steinke said. “For every barrier to voting set up by the legislature, it is my role as a student affairs professional to work through those barriers with students.”
Steinke sent students updates on voting deadlines, shares resources through social media, hosts registration drives and has worked in collaboration with some of the University of Akron’s civic and political student organizations on campus.
Anita Ruf-Young, the director for the Office of Civic Engagement at Cleveland State University, said the office has utilized social media to get the word out about House Bill 458 by making engaging posts and Instagram reels. They’ve also hosted 21 voter registration tables on campus this semester.
House Bill 458 also shortened the absentee ballot window and limited the number of drop boxes for absentee ballots per county to one.
The election is November 7. For more information on acceptable forms of identification, go to https://www.ohiosos.gov.