Ohio Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio is greeted after speaking at a breakfast with state political activist and area business leaders hosted by the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, March 24, 2015.
Photo by Jim Cole/AP

John Kasich blocks GOP scheme to target student voting

In a victory for voting rights, Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Wednesday blocked a Republican scheme that could have made voting much harder for students and others.

Responding to pressure from voting rights advocates, Kasich bucked his party by vetoing language in a transportation bill that would have required out-of-state students who register to vote in Ohio to get a state driver’s license and vehicle registration.

The administrative hurdles—not to mention the $75 or more—needed to get the documents could have dissuaded many of the state’s more than 115,000 out-of-state students from registering and voting in Ohio, as is their right. Students are disproportionately Democratic, but snow birds, members of the military and others could also have been affected.

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“Thanks to the work of my Democratic colleagues, the governor, voting advocates and students around this state, cooler heads have prevailed and the controversial restriction that would have made it harder for students to vote has been removed from the this bill,” said state Rep. Alicia Reece, the top Democrat on the transportation committee, and a leading Ohio voting rights advocate. “Instead of getting caught up in a legal fight over ballot access, we can continue to focus on jobs and economic development in our state. It’s the right thing to do.”

Reece wrote to Kasich last week urging him to veto the language, as did other Ohio Democrats.

New Ohio residents must get state licenses and registrations within 30 days of officially declaring an intention to live permanently in the state, or put themselves at risk of losing their driving privileges. Republicans say registering to vote triggers the residency requirements, noting that when you register to vote in Ohio, you already must certify that you’ll be living in the state for at least 30 days before the election in which you want to vote.

The language Kasich vetoed would have officially established that interpretation. But even after the veto, Republicans continue to insist that’s how the law should be enforced.

“Residency is residency, John Fortney, a spokesman for the Senate GOP, told the Columbus Dispatch.

But under longstanding Ohio law, registering to vote doesn’t trigger that requirement, said Mike Brickner of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter. And Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office has said there’ll be no change to how elections are administered in the state.

This isn’t the first time that Kasich, who is seen as a potential Republican 2016 presidential or vice presidential contender, has bucked his party on an issue where partisan passions run high. He was one of the few Republican governors to expand Medicaid under Obamacare in his state.