|Stifling student voting|
|Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel County Editor|
|Thursday, 09 May 2013 09:32|
Ohio universities may soon be forced to choose between encouraging student voting and receiving lucrative out-of-state tuition.
An amendment to the budget bill was passed by the Ohio House last month that would no longer allow universities to charge out-of-state tuition if they provide students with proof of residency documents for voting.
For Bowling Green State University, the importance of voting could lose out to the need to boost the budget with out-of-state tuition rates. According to BGSU spokesman Dave Kielmeyer, the university would otherwise lose an estimated $22 million annually, "which would be devastating," if it did not charge the higher rates to its 2,312 out-of-state students.
In the past, BGSU has issued letters to on-campus students stating their local addresses as proof of residency so they could vote in Wood County.
The amendment, however, would force public universities to classify students living on campus as in-state if they receive utility bills or official letters that can be used for identification when voting in Ohio. Consequently, BGSU could no longer charge those students the higher rate for out-of-state tuition.
The change has been supported primarily by state Republicans and protested by Democrats. In the 2012 presidential election, 63 percent of Ohio voters aged 18 to 29 supported Democratic President Barack Obama, while 35 percent supported Republican Mitt Romney, according to exit poll data.
Wood County Democratic Party Chairman Mike Zickar was critical of the proposed change.
Zickar, who teaches psychology at BGSU, said he could not find any reason other than the "cynical motive" to reduce Democratic votes.
"I can't imagine what the problem is that this is supposed to solve," he said of the amendment. "What they aren't going to say is that college students vote overwhelmingly Democrat."
Meanwhile, Zickar understands the duress this would place on Ohio colleges.
"It puts universities in a real bind," he said.
For the two voting precincts on the BGSU campus, the impact could be large. Last fall at both precincts, a total of 1,858 on-campus students voted in the election. The amendment would undoubtedly cut that number.
"It's bad for votes and it's bad for colleges and universities," said Zickar, who also serves on the Wood County Board of Elections.
The president of the Inter-University Council of Ohio testified against the change before the Ohio House Finance Committee.
"This is just a bad idea for higher education of Ohio," Kielmeyer said. "It would devastate Ohio universities to offer in-state tuition to out-of-state students."
BGSU officials have not discussed how they would handle the change.
"It puts us in a position we shouldn't be in," Kielmeyer said.
Though the amendment is backed by GOP members, Wood County's state legislators who are both Republicans are not in favor of the change.
State Sen. Randy Gardner said while there may be a need for election reform, "the state budget bill isn't the place for this."
"I've already announced my opposition to it," he said.
If universities didn't get the higher out-of-state revenue, it would put more of a burden on in-state families, he said. While Ohio universities have been working to make tuition more affordable, "this would damage those efforts," he said.
Gardner also questioned the validity of the amendment that would squelch voting by college students.
"There are Constitutional questions whether the amendment could stand a Constitutional test," he said. Support has been lacking, Gardner added. "So far, no one has come to the education subcommittee in the senate and defended this amendment."
State Rep. Tim Brown said he voted for the overall budget bill, though he opposes the amendment.
"Something apparently got added at the end," he said. "I was not privy to any of the discussions."
Brown said he was concerned about the financial impact on colleges.
"I'm hearing from universities that this could be very costly for them," he said.
He also opposes stifling the student vote.
"I voted as a student at BGSU," Brown said. "I'm very concerned about limiting people's choice of where they want to put down their roots" and vote.
Brown is hoping the amendment gets removed from the bill. "This has plenty of time to be evaluated," he said. "It may not survive the senate."
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