Ohio College Students Face Barriers to Voting

This November, critical issues like abortion and marijuana legalization are on the ballot in Ohio. But experts say college students — particularly those from outside of the state — face barriers to casting their vote.
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Published on October 6, 2023
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  • Major issues like abortion rights and cannabis legalization are on the ballot in Ohio this November.
  • College students face barriers to casting their ballot on those key issues, with strict voter ID laws posing a challenge to those from outside of the state.
  • Out-of-state students will need to use a passport or military ID to vote in person, or they will need to cast a provisional ballot or use an absentee ballot.
  • Students voting with an absentee ballot should request and submit that ballot as soon as possible, voting advocates say.

Ohio's upcoming election includes critical issues like abortion rights and cannabis legalization, but college students in the state face barriers to casting their ballot.

The Nov. 7 election includes consequential measures.

Issue 1 would amend the state constitution to provide that each individual has the right to make their own reproductive decisions, including abortion, and Issue 2 would legalize and regulate recreational marijuana.

Abortion access is an important issue for students: A previous BestColleges survey found that a majority of prospective and current college students opposed the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The deadline to register for the Nov. 7 election is Oct. 10, according to the Ohio secretary of state. Early voting begins the next day and runs through Nov. 5. Registration is available online, by mail, or in person.

Anyone who is 18 years old on or before the day of the election, is a U.S. citizen, and is a resident of Ohio for at least 30 days prior to the election, and is not incarcerated or otherwise barred from voting, is eligible to vote in the state. Students can check their voter registration status online.

Even after they register, however, voting-rights advocates say new voter ID laws pose a challenge to college students in the state.

Lawmakers in Ohio's largely conservative statehouse made changes to the state's voter ID laws last year, the Ohio Capital Journal reported, requiring a photo identification like an unexpired Ohio driver's license or ID card, an Ohio National Guard or U.S. Department of Veterans ID, an interim ID form from the state's Bureau of Motor Vehicles, or a passport.

Student IDs are not acceptable forms of identification for voting purposes in Ohio. And the new law removes several options previously available for out-of-state students to verify their identity before casting their ballot.

Utility bills, birth certificates, Social Security cards, bank statements, and other forms of ID that voters could previously use to verify their identity in Ohio are no longer acceptable.

Those changes will affect Ohio college students, and particularly out-of-state students, who will need to use a passport or military ID to vote or will need to cast an absentee ballot, Mia Lewis, associate director of Common Cause Ohio, told BestColleges.

Lewis warned that the changes could lead to confusion and even dissuade some students from voting.

It is still perfectly possible and appropriate for out-of-state students to register and vote in Ohio, Lewis said. However, it's much more difficult than it used to be, and it's much more confusing. And I think we have to understand that confusion around how to vote is a form of voter suppression.

If someone is scared and confused about the voting process, Lewis said, they are less likely to vote.

If 100,000 young people do that, that makes a real difference in the outcome of the election.

Lewis encouraged out-of-state students to vote by absentee ballot or by using their passport, and cautioned that getting an Ohio ID could invalidate their out-of-state driver's license. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is seven days before the election, meaning that local boards of elections need to receive the request by that time.

Lewis said students who want to vote by absentee ballot should request one as soon as possible to avoid missing the deadline. Voters can return that ballot by mail, but it will need to be postmarked no later than the day before Election Day and received by the county board of elections no later than four days after the election. Lewis also reminded college students to buy stamps ahead of mailing their ballot.

Voters can also drop off an absentee ballot in person at their local board of elections.

Voters who can't provide photo identification at the polls can cast a provisional ballot, according to the Ohio secretary of state's website.

The strict voter ID laws affect more than just out-of-state college students, Lewis said. Not everyone has a driver's license, and students might struggle to find the time to acquire another acceptable ID form before the election.

Ohio's stricter voter ID laws don't lead to more security, Lewis said, but rather restrict people's options to vote. She noted that the number of provisional ballots used in Ohio's recent August election rose compared to past elections.

We had a system that worked incredibly well in Ohio, where most people voted with ID, but then, you know, if your ID had expired last week, or you lost it the previous month, or whatever, you could vote with a bank statement, W2, tax returns, all the different kinds of documents you could use, Lewis said.

And by taking that away, you don't actually gain anything. You don't gain more security. All you do is make sure that there are more people who are not able to vote.

Lewis encouraged students with questions about voter ID and casting their ballot to contact VoteRiders, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides information about voter ID. That group can be contacted by email at info@voteriders.org or at 866-ID-2-Vote.