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A new law requires Ohio ID at polls, could pose problem for some college students

A bowl of stickers waits for voters after they cast their early ballot at the Jefferson County Board of Elections office in Steubenville, Ohio, on Monday, April 4, 2022. Early voting begins Tuesday, April 5 in Ohio.
Gene J. Puskar
/
AP
A bowl of stickers waits for voters after they cast their early ballot at the Jefferson County Board of Elections office in Steubenville, Ohio, on Monday, April 4, 2022. Early voting begins Tuesday, April 5 in Ohio.

Ohio’s new voter I.D. law goes into effect next week, and it will change the way college students who are originally from other states can vote.

While utility bills or other identification with a name and address used to be allowed at the polls, House Bill 458 requires an Ohio driver’s license or photo I.D. to vote in person.

That complicates voting for students who live in Ohio, but have I.D. from another state. Students can get an Ohio driver’s license or I.D. if they choose, but that means forfeiting their I.D. from their home state. A person can only hold a valid I.D. from one state at a time.

The law does allow voters to use an unexpired U.S. passport or military photo I.D.

Students who do not have those forms of I.D. or an Ohio I.D. can still vote by mail, but with deadlines for requesting and returning absentee ballots shortened by HB 458, there will be less time to complete the process.

Mia Lewis, associate director of Common Cause Ohio, a government advocacy group, said that the law creates hurdles that college students have to be "pretty persistent" to jump over.

Just to request an absentee ballot, for example, students must find a form, fill it out and mail it. That requires a stamp, which is something most college students don’t have on hand, Lewis said.

She said that students' votes are as “legitimate and important as anybody else’s votes.”

“You know, they are residing here. They have important opinions about how they want people to represent them in government,” Lewis said.

Terri Enns, a clinical professor of law at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, said residency is something that’s “inside your head,” but that you must prove it to the state too.

Enns said students attending colleges and universities in Ohio who believe they are residents should make it official by changing their I.D. A provision in the new law allows people to get a photo I.D. for free.

Enns noted that the state’s new voting law puts emphasis on voters proving their identity, rather than that they live where they’re voting.

“In the past, the reason you used ID of some sort was to prove two things. One, I am who I say I am, and two, I'm voting in the local jurisdiction where, you know, my vote will have an impact on me. So that's why you showed something like a utility bill that would have your name on it and your address,” Enns said.

She said the state has decided the best way to prove identity is a photograph.

Enns also highlighted the importance of voting for the people and issues that will affect your life.

"You're supposed to be impacted by the consequences of your vote. So that's why we want people to vote where they live,” she said.

She encouraged anyone planning to vote in the May 2 primary to check their registration and be aware of new, shorter time frames established by HB 458.

The new law goes into effect April 7, three days after early voting begins on April 4. The last day to register to vote is April 3.

Allie Vugrincic is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She comes to Columbus from her hometown of Warren, Ohio, where she was a reporter, features writer and photographer for four years at the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator newspapers.