Law Impedes Student Votes
Students opened their OCMR mailboxes last week to find yet another reminder to vote in the upcoming Nov. 7 election: a voter registration form accompanied by an absentee application form.
This is but one example of the November Committee campaign’s work. The committee is a coalition of student activist groups encouraging students and faculty to vote with absentee ballots in the upcoming Nov. 7 general election. Absentee voting was proposed in order to circumvent a new Ohio law requiring that all voters show proof of identity and Ohio residency at the polls.
The Ohio PIRG student chapter, OC Democrats and OC ACLU have spent the past few weeks passing out forms, tabling at Wilder, canvassing and lit-dropping, and gaining satisfaction from being able to drive completed voter registration forms and absentee ballot request forms to the Lorain County Board of Elections.
“I’ve been driving to the Board of Elections office about every other day for the past two weeks and bring in more than 100 registrations each time,” said Deborah Slosberg, campus organizer for the OPIRG Oberlin College student chapter. “As of today, we have collected over 700 voter registration forms.”
The November Committee was founded by student senator and College junor Colin Koffel last semester as a method of joining forces with various campus “get out the vote” groups. The committee’s long-term focus is to make voting more convenient for students. In keeping with this goal, the committee is now working to help shed public light on the new Ohio law HB-3, passed in Feb. 2006.
The controversial section of HB-3 that has inspired committee action requires that Ohio voters now provide proof of identity and residence at the polls.
“I suspect that the law was designed to depress voter turnout here and in other key Democratic constituencies by making voting unnecessarily difficult,” said college junior, Brian Pugh, co-chair of the OC Dems. “However, given the passion and ingenuity of Oberlin students, I hope that Ohio’s partisan election authorities will be disappointed.”
Section 3501.19 of HB-3 explains that acceptable forms of identification include a valid Ohio driver’s license or Ohio identification card, a valid military ID card or government document that shows the voter’s name and current address (such as a paycheck) or a copy of a current utility bill or bank statement.
An OCMR mailing address does not satisfy the requirements of “current address,” which must be a residential address, registered with the Board of Elections.
“[The November Committee] pushed absentee voting because that circumvents the voter ID requirement,” said Koffel. “[But] it will take the fun and community out of voting.”
Slosberg explained that when addressing larger groups of students she recommends that they change the address to which their bank statements are sent to their OCMR number, followed by the address of the dorm that they are living in, and then use the statement as proof of residency.
However, as this is a complicated scenario to explain many times to many students on an individual basis, Slosberg makes it easier: “Absentees are your best way to go. Do absentee.”
Sophomore Rebecca Eiseman, member of OPIRG, and a prime organizer of the OCMR pamphleting and dorm-canvassing projects, commented on her “getting out the vote” experience.
“Having the one-on-one connection [during door-canvassing and tabling] makes a world of difference,” said Eiseman. “People are used to being flyered at and it doesn’t really hit them. But if someone is addressed personally, they have to be proactive and take initiative.”
However, she expressed concern that despite all of OPIRG’s campaigning, many students are still unaware of the new law’s restrictions and the necessity to vote absentee.
“There is a decent percentage of the student body that thinks they are good to vote,” said Eiseman. “They don’t realize they have to re-register each time they move to a new address and that they have to send in an absentee ballot request form. Their right to vote at polls is pretty much non-existent.”
Voters who do not provide one of the required documents at the polls can still vote with a provisional ballot, after providing the last four digits of their social security number. If a voter cannot provide a social security number, he or she must sign an affirmation swearing to his or her identity under penalty of election falsification, and may then cast a provisional ballot.
“Voting provisionally may be the most problematic way to cast a vote,” said Pugh. “The provisional ballot requires four pages of forms and may be disqualified if there is the slightest mistake. In 2004 nearly a quarter of provisional ballots were thrown out.”
Koffel noted that a voter might also be required to provide the Board of Elections with proof of his or her identity within 10 days after the election.
The November Committee plans to resume dorm-canvassing after fall break, this time specifically for absentee request forms and ballots. OPIRG members also plan to gather committee representatives to be present at the local foods festival on Saturday, and organize a large last-minute voting event, involving free stamps, a few days before Election Day.
“We’re trying to make the voting process as easy as possible for everyone,” assured Slosberg.